A Philadelphia judge issued a stunning stay of execution Friday for a death row inmate just days before he was scheduled to die by lethal injection, after finding the prosecutor in the case withheld evidence that the victim was molesting boys and lied about a secret deal she’d struck with an accomplice.
In a scathing opinion, Judge M. Teresa Sarmina said prosecutor Andrea Foulkes was "playing fast and loose" in the case against Terrance Williams and "had no problem disregarding her ethical obligations" in an effort to win, according to the Patriot News.
Sarmina tossed out the death sentence against Williams, 46, and ordered a new sentencing hearing. Williams was scheduled to be executed October 3 for the 1984 slaying of 56-year-old Amos Norwood.
Williams was 18 when he killed Norwood, a married father and church deacon, stripping him, beating him to death with a tire iron and setting his body on fire.
The ruling follows a contentious hearing in which Williams’ defense team presented evidence they claim shows prosecutors hid information that Norwood had been molesting teenage boys including Williams.
A co-defendant who testified at the trial told the court last week that prosecutors had instructed him to omit information about the abuse, and instead describe the crime as a robbery that went bad.
Sarmina found “reasonable probability” that the verdict might have been different had the abuse allegations surfaced during the initial trial.
“The District Attorney’s very own files were replete with evidence from as early as 1984 of predatory, exploitive and abusive acts by… Amos Norwood against Terry Williams and other teenage boys,” said Williams’ defense attorney Shawn Nolan. “Judge Sarmina certainly understands how the prosecution misled the jury in this case. The Philadelphia District Attorney should stop their appeals and stop fighting to have Terry executed.”
Prosecutors have denied any wrongdoing in the case. District Attorney Seth Williams in a blunt editorial published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday, said Terry Williams was a male prostitute and a brutal, two-time killer who “should finally be subject to the sentence of death he received from a jury more than 25 years ago.”
Thousands of supporters have advocated for Williams’ death penalty to be lifted, including the victims’ widow and several of the jurors who sentenced him to death.
“I think it’s clear that if Terry Williams were tried today he wouldn’t get the death penalty because his age, the abuse he suffered – perhaps at the hands of his victim – would all be taken into consideration,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “It’s not a case of innocence but it is a case of injustice.”
Prosecutors said they will appeal the judge’s ruling to stay the execution, “The well-deserved death sentence imposed by a jury on a vicious double murderer has been unjustly overturned by a Philadelphia judge, 28 years after the crimes, and I have directed my assistants to file an immediate appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court,” said District Attorney Seth Williams.