The execution of a man convicted of killing a church deacon who he claims molested him was put on hold Wednesday, after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied prosecutor’s emergency petition in a death penalty appeal.
On Friday, a judge stayed the execution of Terrance Williams, 46, after information came to light about prosecutors possibly hiding evidence showing the deacon who he killed, Amos Norwood, sexually molested him as a child. The judge also ordered a new sentencing hearing.
Prosecutors appealed the stay of execution, but the death warrant for Williams expired at midnight.
Gov. Tom Corbett now has 30 days to issue a new death warrant for Williams, which must be carried out within 60 days. Williams may also be pardoned or given a life sentence in that time, reversing his death sentence.
Williams, who would have been the first person executed in Pennsylvania in a decade, was given the death penalty after he was convicted in 1986 of beating the 56-year-old Norwood to death in a cemetery with a tire-iron and setting his body on fire. Williams said Norwood had been sexually abusing him from the time he was thirteen until Norwood’s death.
A judge said last week that prosecutors sterilized the story of what happened, which might have influenced the jury’s decision to give Williams his death sentence. The jury was told Williams’ sole motive was robbery.
Williams was also convicted of another murder at the age of 17, when he stabbed 50-year-old Herbert Hamilton, who worked as a high school sports booster, to death. The stabbing resulted from a sex-related argument between the two men. The death penalty was not sought in this case because Williams was underage.
Williams claimed Hamilton also sexually abused him.
Kathleen Lucas, executive director for Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to Death Penalty, said she was halfway to a vigil at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview — where Williams was to be executed — when she heard his execution was stayed, and that she couldn’t be happier.
“The District Attorney has been very vocal in saying that Norwood took advantage of Williams,” Lucas said. “When someone is 13 years old, it isn’t called being taken advantage of, it is called rape.”
Neither Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams nor Williams’ attorney Shawn Nolan could be reached for comment as of press time Wednesday.
Pennsylvania has not executed someone who had not abandoned their appeals in 50 years. About 200 people currently await execution on death row in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania reinstated the death penalty in 1978 and since then, three people have been put to death.
State College Borough Council President Don Hahn said the death penalty should be used in Pennsylvania only in exceptional circumstances and only after proper due process is given.
“Some states use the death penalty to an objectionable frequency,” Hahn said. “It should be used sparingly.”
Centre County Commissioner Steve Dershem said Centre County has been the home to an execution chamber for a long time, and that it is the last step in a long process after the defendant has been given every other opportunity.
“I have no problem with the death penalty,” Dershem said. “It’s part of the process of punishment in Pennsylvania.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.