Pennsylvania man, imprisoned since the age of 18, faces execution for murder of older men who repeatedly raped him

Terry Williams is on death row in Pennsylvania for murdering two older men who raped him and physically abused him, something he had endured from a succession of predators from the age of six until he killed two of them them around the time of his 18th birthday. The jury didn't get to hear about the rape, and jurors who subsequently learned about it stated they wouldn't have advocated for the death penalty if they'd known all the facts of the case. A vocal campaign for clemency has grown up, including the widow of one of the men Williams killed.

Pennsylvania should not execute Terry Williams because:

- Terry suffered horrific sexual and physical abuse during his childhood and no one intervened to get him help when he was boy;

- The jury did not know about his history of childhood sexual abuse and trauma;

- The jury did not know that the men he killed were his abusers;

- Terry was only 18 years old at the time of the crime for which he was sentenced to death and the jury did not know about the psychological impact of sexual abuse on someone as young as Terry;

- Jurors did not know that he would never be eligible for parole;

- Jurors have stated that they would not have voted for death if they had known about his sexual abuse and ineligibility for parole; and

- The victim’s widow does not want Terry executed for her husband’s killing.

For all these reasons, we urge the members of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, and Governor Tom Corbett to commute Terry’s sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Terry Williams A Case for Clemency (via Reddit)


    1. Nobody deserves the death penalty. And nobody should kill others. IOW, he probably shouldn’t be in prison but he shouldn’t have killed anyone either (understandable as it may be).

        1. I agree too. When it comes to the death penalty we always ask “Does he/she deserve to die” not, “Do we have the right to kill.” (I think I nipped that one from a TED talk somewhere on the d.p. – highly recommend watching it if you have the chance)

  1. Life in prison without the possibility of parole is not much clemency.  You’re basically saying that there is no chance that he will reform himself as he gets older (or if he does, tough luck). 

    In some ways execution would be less cruel.

    1. Step 1 is to make sure he is not killed while they push forward to have the case looked at again.

  2. If the two men he killed were two of the men who sexually abused him, then he should not be put to death for killing them.  And he should not spend the rest of his life in jail for killing them.  They should let him out after a big press conference where they mention that if you were an abuser of Terry, he’s about to get released, but if you come in and confess and go to jail you’ll be safe from him :)   

    1. Can’t get much more civilized than the Romans. Their economy was based on slavery and serfdom, their politics were civil war, their founding myths involved mass rape, and their favorite sports involved either the gladiators killing each other or the racing-fans killing each other.

      1. The Rape of the Sabine Women actually means ‘abduction’, not forced intercourse. But yeah, the Romans had a few little quirks that the more squeamish among us might disapprove.

          1. There is no sex in the story. “Livy is clear that no sexual assault took place. On the contrary, Romulus offered them free choice and promised civic and property rights to women.”

          2. Since I cannot reply below: thank you, Antinous, for correcting me. It’s to nice to know the Romans respected women more in their myths.

          3. Despite Rome’s many flaws, women had more rights than they did in many other societies of the time. Women in Greece had almost no codified rights.

    2. The legal system in Pennsylvania isn’t exactly representative of the legal system in every state.  Mr. Williams isn’t the only death row inmate there for questionable legal maneuvering reasons.

  3. It might be some legal trickery, but points five and six are confusing me.  The jurors voted for the death penalty, but they thought he would still be eligible for parole?  How, as a zombie?

    1. I was confused about that, too.  Maybe there is something we are missing, like they voted him guilty of murder, thinking he could get paroled, but murder does not allow that?  I’m not sure how it works in PA, but in Texas they used to not be able to tell the jurors what amount of time the sentence would entail.  I think that changed recently, but I’m not sure.  I know several people who’ve served on criminal trial juries and complained about not knowing if the person was going to get 2 years in jail or 20.  This was pre-widespread internet, I imagine now you could look up stuff like that online even if it’s not explicitly stated in the proceedings   

      1. As a jury member, looking up online something the lawyers were barred from telling you would get you expelled (or whatever the term is).

    2. Juror’s don’t set the sentence. 

      The way the “facts” were presented lead them to believe he was “that” guilty, so they voted for the level of guilt that included that option most likely.
      Murder in the 1st, 2nd, Manslaughter… all mean you killed someone but they decide how much you meant it.

    3. It’s confusingly worded, but I think it may mean “they voted to execute because they didn’t realize the alternative would not allow for the possibility of parole.” A lot of people who support the death penalty do so because they believe it’s the only foolproof way to make sure the convict will never get out again.

      1. Yep, this is right. Some of the juror’s stated that they did not realise that in Pennsylvania life imprisonment means life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Apparently Pennsylvania is the only state where this is the case, but where it is not required to  clearly explain this to the jurors.

    4. They thought that if they voted for life in prison, he would have eventually been eligible for parole and released – and it’s not the case. So they voted for the death penalty to ensure he would never get out of prison alive.

      What I don’t understand is why the jury never heard about the abuse, at least at the sentencing hearing, because it is clearly a mitigating factor. IANAL, but I would think this is the kind of stuff his lawyer should have fought strongly to make sure it would be in the record. Was his lawyer incompetent? Was the judge opposed to it? Is there a matter of law in this state I am not aware of that is at play here?

      And, of course, in my opinion the death penalty is wrong in any case. You never know when an error can be made, and you cannot bring a person who has been executed back to life.

      1. Based on the level of apparent injustice in the case from just reading Cory’s summary and the quoted part, my first thought was, “he’s probably black and either had terrible representation and/or public representation and/or got railroaded by the system.” Now to read the case history…

        1. Okay. I’m just thinking of the recent case of a black trans womon who has been imprisoned for murder for defending herself from neo-Nazis. The judge refused to admit evidence of her attacker’s past violence, neo-Nazi tattoos, etc. The legal system does not serve justice.

          1. Or Dessie Woods, who was sentenced to 22 years in 1975 for blowing away her white rapist with his own gun. Depressingly, despite it being a nationally known case, she doesn’t even get a mention in Wikipedia.

  4. One problem I see here is that the dead can’t talk, so what’s going to stop ANY prisoner from fabricating abuses committed by their deceased victims? Unless other abuse victims can come forward to support Terry’s claims, it’s really his word against that of 2 dead people.

    Because right now it seems anecdotal that Terry “was one of those boys”. 

    However his attorney did completely drop the ball here by not disclosing this information. He deserves a new trial with competent representation at the very least. I’d root for clemency if there was conclusive proof that he was justified in his actions.

    1. One problem I see here is that the dead can’t talk, so what’s going to stop ANY prisoner from fabricating abuses committed by their deceased victims?

      Concern troll seems concerned.

      1.  Aww, that’s not fair, is it?  Dave Delisle seems to think the guy didn’t receive a fair trial and should, what more do you want?  Extralegal acquittal?

        1. The “what’s going to stop ANY prisoner from fabricating abuses by their victims” line implies that all such claims are equally plausible or effective. It’s a variant on the “we have to punish clinically insane people for their actions the same way we punish everyone else, otherwise criminals will all just pretend to be insane” argument.

          1. I fail to see how the line implies what you say it does, or that it is a variant on what you claim it to be a variant of.  If we believe that being the victim of multiple rapes is an extenuating circumstance in the murder of the rapists, it seems to follow that their should be evidence to the truth of the circumstance before it can be considered… extenuating.  On top of that, the poster thinks there should be a new trial and clemency if the claimed extenuating circumstances are proven true.  That sounds so fair as to be… unoffensive.

        1. His comment makes sense given that we as a society are less likely to do anything about accusations of rape than crimes.

  5. – The jury did not know about his history of childhood sexual abuse and trauma.
    – The jury did not know that the men he killed were his abusers

    How the hell does THAT happen?  Overzealous prosecuting attorneys scoring career points, while indifferent defense attorneys are too busy sexting during the trial?

      1. …the culture of tit-for-tat favors between police, prosecutors, and judges…

        Yeah, I checked Gideon v. Wainright.

        Here’s a pure law.  By “pure” I mean “innocent”.  Then like THAT (“click!”) it’s perverted by two bastards:  one of them cynical, the other lazy.  Actually now that I think about it, both lazy.

        What is the laziest line between two points, with plenty Prime Ribs in between?

    1. When the black person kills the white person, the case is over isn’t it? 
      There can be nothing the poor white person could have done to deserve the killing by that evil black person… and we sure as shit shouldn’t do anything that might hurt our win ratio, even if it is violating the law and the defendants rights.

  6. According to yesterday’s NY Times:

    Mr. Williams was sentenced to death for killing a man named Amos Norwood during a robbery. His co-defendant, Marc Draper, convinced the jury that Mr. Williams was a predatory killer. But from childhood, Mr. Williams was often sexually abused by Mr. Norwood and others …… But the prosecution never told the defense about Mr. Draper’s account of the relationship, which might have spared Mr. Williams the death penalty.

    1. This should make the appeal a lot easier; the prosecution has very arguably denied information material to the case to the defence.

  7. And this is why the death penalty is a bad idea. What was the jury thinking? “There can’t possibly be any information that could change our mindes.” Well there was, and it did, and it’s now too late. GJ guys!

  8. It seems that the abuse contributed to the motive, so how can it be that the motive for a murder is not introduced at the accused’s trial?

  9. Two men commit horrible crimes, and are killed for their crimes by their victim. Then the State decides that killing someone for committing horrible crimes is a crime, and so sentences the living perpetrator to death for his crimes. Yeah, that makes sense.

  10. it is irrelevant whether the jury new about the abuse or not, the death penalty is simply immoral, where is the compassion and forgiveness of the supposedly Christian US. 

  11. Vigilante justice is something that cannot be tolerated in a civilized society. 

    I don’t believe in capital punishment, and this man should have been rehabilitated to the point where he understood what he did was wrong, and should not have received death or a punitively long prison sentence 

    Rapist may be among the most vile wretches of the earth, but for the greater good we cannot let victims decide who lives and dies after the fact. It’s frightening to see how easily people can be whipped into a frenzy praising bloodshed

Comments are closed.