Philadelphia court orders stay of execution for Terrance Williams

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Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge M. Theresa Sarmina today issued a stay of execution of condemned killer Terrance Williams.

Williams, 46, had been scheduled to die by lethal injection next Wednesday.

Judge Sarmina's decision came a day after the state Board of Pardons agreed to hear for a second time Williams' plea for clemency, but put off any action in apparent deference to the court in Philadelphia.

The board's action to rehear William's clemency plea reversed a Sept. 17 vote in which the panel failed to recommend that Gov. Corbett commute the killer's death sentence to life in prison without parole.

Williams was set to be the first Pennsylvania prisoner put to death since 1999.

After the oral arguments before the board Thursday, Thomas Dolgenos of the Philadelphia district attorney's office argued it should not act until after Sarmina decides.

"This board should be a court of last resort," Mr. Dolgenos argued.

After the hearing, Mr. Dolgenos seemed pleased by the board's decision, as did Williams' attorney, Shawn Nolan. Nolan said he was happy that clemency was again a possibility for Williams.

"This is the place where mercy, clemency, may be exercised," Mr. Nolan said afterward. "They can see what happens with the court and then make a decision."

In Philadelphia, Judge Sarmina was considering what defense lawyers say is evidence the jury that sentenced Williams to death in 1986 did so based on misinformation: the prosecutor's theory that Amos Norwood, 56, was killed during a robbery.

Instead, the defense says, newly discovered evidence shows the prosecutor knew of information that lent credence to Williams' claim that the killing was an act of rage based on Norwood's sexual abuse of Williams from age 13 until the slaying in 1984.

Prosecutors maintain that the information is not new and that there was no independent corroboration Williams was sexually abused.

In addition to Williams' claims of sexual abuse by Norwood and others, defense lawyers argue the prosecutor in 1986, Andrea Foulkes, withheld from the jury that she had promised Marc Draper, Williams' admitted accomplice, a recommendation to state parole officials if he pleaded guilty and testified that the killing occurred during a robbery.

Draper, now 46, testified that he felt duped when he learned his guilty plea resulted in a life prison term without parole.

Ms. Foulkes denounced Draper's recantation as a lie during testimony last week before Judge Sarmina.

She called her letter to the parole board in 1986 routine, though she conceded she would have told the jury about it if the trial were held today.

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