Terry’s story is a devastating one. In a clemency petition filed with the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons and Governor Corbett by child advocates and other Pennsylvanians, Terry’s tragic childhood is outlined, beginning with his violent and abusive mother and step-father, and subsequent rapes by various older men, starting when Terry was only six years old. The rest of his childhood continued similarly. Terry was later repeatedly raped by men in positions of power, including a teacher and a church leader.
What ensued from this history of abuse after abuse is that Terry eventually lashed out at his abusers. Terry was first convicted of an armed robbery in 1982, at age 16, and for the 1984 killing of Herbert Hamilton, at age 17. Hamilton had been sexually abusing Terry until one day when Hamilton attacked Terry and a fight broke out between the two. It ended with Terry repeatedly stabbing Hamilton to his death.
Just a few months after Terry’s 18th birthday, he murdered another of his abusers, Amos Norwood, a leader of the acolytes at Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. What started as sexual abuse quickly escalated to violent sexual encounters between the two, where Norwood would beat Terry while raping him. During his trial, the jury was told of Terry’s two prior convictions of armed robbery and murder. They were not told of his history of being sexually abused by the very men he killed. According to the clemency petition, Terry’s attorney did not meet with him until the day before his trial began and did not investigate the facts of the trial. Several jurors who convicted Terry and opted for the death penalty rather than life without parole have now signed sworn affidavits saying that had they known of the history of abuse by Terry’s victims, they would not have supported a death sentence.
Additionally, Norwood’s widow has also come out in support for clemency for Terry, who is deeply penitent of his crimes, and would like his sentence reduced to life without parole. In total, 22 former prosecutors and judges, 34 law professors, 40 mental health professionals, and over three dozen faith leaders from across the state of Pennsylvania, including the Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput, have publicly called for Terry’s death sentence to be commuted to life without parole.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, and Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams all have the power to stop the execution of Terrance Williams and reduce his sentence to life without the possibility of parole. Please contact Governor Corbett, sign the petition on Terry’s web site, and educate yourself about this case and other cases like it at the Death Penalty Information Center or at Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
Alyssa Röhricht blogs at Crash Culture: Political Train Wrecks for Political Junkies