Pa. board of pardons delays clemency vote
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HARRISBURG -- The Pennsylvania Board of Pardons put off a vote on clemency for death-row inmate Terrance Williams ahead of a ruling expected today in efforts to stop his execution next week.
Attorneys for Williams had asked the board to reconsider its initial vote, a 3-2 split favoring clemency that fell short of the unanimous recommendation required for the governor to act. They and other supporters argue Williams should not be put to death because they say the man he killed in 1984, when Williams was 18, had sexually abused him.
Much of the argument before the board involved a separate appeal asking a Philadelphia judge to stop the execution. After three days of a hearing in which federal defenders claimed the prosecutors who tried Williams concealed evidence of sexual abuse, Judge M. Teresa Sarmina said she would announce her decision this morning at the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.
The attorneys had argued that a jury told that Williams was motived by his own sexual abuse, rather than a desire to commit robbery, would not have delivered a death sentence. On Thursday, Tom Dolgenos, an attorney with the Philadelphia district attorney's office, told the pardons board there remains no evidence that Amos Norwood, who was 56 at his death, abused Williams. If there was a sexual dimension to the motivation, Mr. Dolgenos said, it would be if Williams was a prostitute who committed murder.
Shawn Nolan, an attorney for Williams, argued that Norwood and Williams were sexually involved and that such a relationship could only be abuse.
"They try to portray Terry as a hustler and a prostitute," Mr. Nolan said. "He was a child when this started."
The board deliberated for about 15 minutes before unanimously voting to hold the case under advisement, and each member declined to make a public comment. Chad Saylor, a spokesman for Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, who chairs the pardons board, said that barring a stay, he believes the board would reconvene before Williams is put to death.
"It would be their intention to resolve the matter one way or the other before the date of execution," he said.
When the board first considered the case, Attorney General Linda Kelly and two other members voted to recommend clemency, while Mr. Cawley and the final member voted against such a recommendation.
Mr. Dolgenos had told the board they were limited granting relief in "extraordinary circumstances" where the courts cannot act, and he pointed to the Philadelphia proceedings as evidence the courts are acting. He said he was satisfied with the vote.
"I think they're taking it seriously," Mr. Dolgenos said. "We asked them essentially to let the court do its work, and it seems to me that's what they're doing."
Mr. Nolan also praised the board for taking the case seriously.
"If they want to wait for courts, that's certainly their prerogative," he said. "As we've said, this can be a place of last resort, so we're happy that that is still out there for Mr. Williams."
Pennsylvania last executed an inmate who had not given up appeals in 1962.
First Published September 28, 2012 12:00 am