Advocates for child victims of sexual abuse are calling on Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett to grant clemency to Terrance "Terry" Williams, who is scheduled to be executed on October 3. In 1986, Williams was convicted of killing Amos Norwood. What the jury in that case did not know is that Norwood had sexually abused Williams and had allegedly violently raped him the night before. Furthermore, Williams had suffered years of physical and sexual abuse by older males. Most recently, evidence has emerged that prosecutors tried to make robbery seem like the motive for the murder, even though Williams’ co-defendant knew about the sexual abuse. A hearing on this part of the case is set to take place today in Philadelphia. Now, as Williams’ execution is set to take place in less than a month, five of the jurors in his case have since come forward to say they believe life without parole would have been the appropriate sentence because they did not know all the facts. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in Pittsburgh, heading to Ohio as we swing through the swing states. Today I’ll be in Cleveland at 5:00, tonight at Oberlin College speaking to folks at the First Church, and tomorrow at noon at Kenyon College. Then we’re moving on to Columbus and then to Athens for University of Ohio. And on Sunday, we’ll be in Cincinnati. We are traveling through the country. You can go to our website at democracynow.org to check out the full college and community media tour, as we bring out the voices of the silenced majority.
We turn now to a pending execution in Pennsylvania that’s making national headlines. Terrance Williams, known as "Terry," is scheduled to die on October 3rd, but advocates for child victims of sexual abuse are calling on Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett to grant him clemency.
Terry Williams was convicted of two grisly murders in the 1980s. First, convicted of killing Herbert Hamilton, a 50-year-old man found naked with his throat cut by a knife. Williams was tried for third degree murder in the case and sentenced to 27 years, a somewhat lenient charge because the murder reportedly happened after Hamilton had demanded he pose naked for him. Then, in 1986, Williams was convicted of killing a second man, Amos Norwood, who was beaten with a tire iron, set on fire and left in a cemetery. The murder happened just three months after Terry Williams turned 18 years old.
What the jury in that case did not know is that Norwood had sexually abused Williams and had allegedly violently raped him the night before. Furthermore, Williams had suffered years of physical and sexual abuse by older men. Most recently, evidence has emerged that prosecutors tried to make robbery seem like the motive for the murder, even though Williams’ co-defendant knew about the sexual abuse. A hearing on this part of the case is set to take place today in Philadelphia.
Now, as Terry Williams’ execution is set to take place in less than a month, October 3rd, five of the jurors in his case have since come forward to say they believe life without parole would have been the appropriate sentence because they did not know all the facts.
Even Norwood’s widow—this is the murdered man’s widow—has asked that Williams’ life be spared. She recently wrote, quote, "I do not wish to see Terry Williams executed... He is worthy of forgiveness and I am at peace with my decision."
All of this comes as Pennsylvania has recently dealt with two high-profile cases of sexual abuse, including former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan Senate task force here in the state is in the process of reviewing the state’s death penalty. Pennsylvania has the fourth-largest death row in the country, one of the highest reversal rates for capital punishment cases. If Williams is executed, he’ll be the first death row prisoner to be executed non-voluntarily by the state in 50 years. I mean the first death row prisoner to be executed who did not—of anyone who appealed their case.
For more, we’re joined in Philadelphia by Marc Bookman, executive director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation, a former public defender, and Frank Cervone, executive director of the Support Center for Child Advocates. He has written several op-eds on the case and joined numerous other groups against sexual violence and for human rights, along with mental health professionals and faith leaders, in publicly calling for the governor to commute Terry Williams’ death sentence to life.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Why don’t we begin with Marc Bookman of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation? Talk about Terry Williams’ case.
MARC BOOKMAN: Well, you know, the most interesting thing about the case, the death penalty is, you know, supposed to be reserved for the worst of the worst. I mean, that’s how—that’s how all statutes are designed. That’s what our Supreme Court has talked about. You know, you take a look at this case, and you see a young man, barely 18, who has been sexually abused almost his entire life at the time he commits this crime, this unfortunate crime. And who would say that he’s the worst of the worst? I mean, how would anyone decide, of all of the people that have committed murders in Pennsylvania, that this barely 18-year-old, who’s been sexually traumatized his entire life, would be the worst of the worst? And yet, he’s the first person that we’re going to execute non-voluntarily in 50 years.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about how it is that in his original case, in the original trial, that it was not presented that he was repeatedly raped as he was growing up.
MARC BOOKMAN: Well, frankly, practically nothing was presented in his original case. And that was—that was not unusual. The trial took place in the mid-’80s in Philadelphia. Virtually nothing was presented. And, in fact, the jury found no mitigating circumstances. Now, again, this is an 18-year-old, 18 years and three months old, who has been sexually abused his entire life, and this case itself is about that sort of sexual abuse, and yet none of it was presented to the jury. And the jury found literally no mitigating circumstances, no reasons at all to spare him from the death sentence—just, you know, another example of pretty inept lawyering, I would say.
AMY GOODMAN: Who was his lawyer? What happened to his lawyer?
MARC BOOKMAN: Well, you know, I think that the standard of practice in Philadelphia in the mid-’80s was quite low. And, you know, sexual—
AMY GOODMAN: Wasn’t his lawyer disbarred?
MARC BOOKMAN: I don’t—I don’t know. I don’t know about that. That may be the case; I just don’t know. But I know that this sort of sexual trauma requires a certain expertise to be elicited. I know Mr. Cervone can certainly talk about that. You know, it’s not—you know, if you meet your lawyer a few times, and you’re facing this kind of a trial, you’re not likely to blurt out everything that’s happened to you, all of the awful things that have happened to you in your lifetime. It requires a team of lawyers and experts to work slowly and carefully with a traumatized person to elicit this sort of information. And certainly it was not elicited in front of this jury.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to read a comment from Assistant District Attorney Ronald Eisenberg about efforts to compare Terry Williams to victims of convicted retired Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and predator priests. He said, quote, "That effort to piggyback on these sorry events is, I think, quite cynical. ... This situation is nothing like the altar boys and other victims of sexual abuse here and in State College." Frank Cervone, your response?
FRANK CERVONE: Well, in fact, they’re very similar. This is a man who, for which there’s lots of corroborating evidence, was sexually abused when he was six. He was repeatedly abused by different men as a boy. The man he is convicted of killing, for which he got the death penalty, Mr. Norwood, was 56 years old when he was 18 years old.
I think one of the significant comparisons and similarities between the Sandusky victims and this fellow lies in their respective similar decisions in their lives not to disclose. It took years for these men to come forward to talk about what happened to them. And that’s really understandable. We’re getting to see the Sandusky case, the priest case—cases, and lots of others kind of in the current scene are opening people’s eyes to understand why victims would elect not to disclose. Terry Williams was—he knew he was facing the death penalty, and yet, even in the face of that kind of consequence, he could not bring himself to tell the police, to tell his lawyer, to tell anyone about this history. I have to imagine—well, he certainly told his lawyers in the court since then—that he was deeply shamed, certainly confused about his sexuality. He kept all that inside. And you have ask, what happened to you? What caused you to come—to be silent?
AMY GOODMAN: How did your board, Frank Cervone—you’re the head of the Support Center for Child Advocates—how did your board respond to you taking on this case?
FRANK CERVONE: Folks have been tremendously supportive. We’re a small Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization. We think we’re the largest volunteer lawyer program for kids in the country. But in the span of organizations, we’re not a huge place, and we’re run by a wonderful staff and a dedicated volunteer board—lawyers and professionals from the community. And the question comes up, "Well, why are we, a child advocacy organization, in this space? Why are we in this case? We’re not a death penalty organization. We don’t represent adults. We only represent child victims." But in point of fact, we were able to see, together, that the story of Terry Williams is a story about child abuse. It’s a story about victimization. It’s a story about what happens to someone who’s been so victimized that they can’t tell. The—
AMY GOODMAN: One of—one of Williams’ victims, Amos Norwood, led the altar boys and directed the Youth Theater Fellowship at Philadelphia Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church. He has since been accused of inappropriately touching a number of boys at the church. I want to play an excerpt from an interview with Barbara Harris, a retired bishop with the Episcopal Church who knew Amos Norwood from working with him at Saint Barnabas Church.
BARBARA HARRIS: Mr. Norwood was warden of what we call warden of the acolytes. And that means that he supervised and trained the boys who served at the altar during worship. I hold a strong belief that justice would not necessarily be served by executing this young man, given the circumstances surrounding his crime.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Barbara Harris, a retired bishop with the Episcopal Church. Your response, Frank Cervone?
FRANK CERVONE: This sort of relationship is the most seditious and upsetting kind of corruption. It’s one thing to take money from the church plate. It’s another thing to use your position of power and of authority, of influence—really, your pastoral care—to get inside the mind and the life of a boy, a young person who’s been entrusted to you for care and for pastoring. It looks like that’s what Norwood did. That’s—it certainly helps us to understand why, why a person like Terry Williams would be confused, at a minimum be confused, as I said earlier, to be so confused in the face of this grave consequence to feel a lack of power, to act out against him until that power so erupted that it was expressed in a rage.
AMY GOODMAN: And very briefly, Marc Bookman, the Pennsylvania Senate-appointed committee that’s looking at the death penalty and recommended that no—that there been no executions until they come up with their recommendations next year?
MARC BOOKMAN: Right, that’s—this is a committee that’s been formed. A Senate resolution was passed. The two—the two leading figures on that task force have signed on 12 other members of the advisory committee, all saying that, you know, when we’re studying a state like Pennsylvania, you have to understand Pennsylvania has not executed anyone, as I said, non-voluntarily in 50 years, and we have the highest reversal rate in capital cases of any state in the country. So we bear a close study. And what they’re saying, what this committee and what this task force is saying is, "Let’s take a close look at the Pennsylvania death penalty. Let’s see if it’s working appropriately." Certainly, in this case, it did not work appropriately. "And let’s just wait until our study comes down and a report is issued, before we go ahead and execute someone, especially someone like Terry Williams." So, that’s—
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to—
MARC BOOKMAN: You know, that seems reasonable.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, but we’ll certainly continue to follow the case of Terry Williams, on death row here in Pennsylvania, scheduled to die on October 3rd. Pennsylvania has the fourth-largest death row. More than 200 people on death row in the country. Marc Bookman, thanks for being with us, executive director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation, and Frank Cervone, executive director of the Support Center for Child Advocates. We’re on the road in Pennsylvania. Stay with us.