Pennsylvania top court halts Wednesday execution for killer Terrance Williams

Pennsylvania's top court has denied prosecutors' emergency petition in a death penalty appeal, meaning an inmate who claims the church deacon he killed had molested him will not be executed Wednesday.

The state Supreme Court has asked for more briefings in the case of Terrance “Terry” Williams, of Philadelphia.

A Philadelphia judge on Friday vacated Williams' death sentence, finding that prosecutors hid evidence of possible sexual abuse at his 1986 murder trial and granting him a new sentencing hearing.

But Philadelphia's district attorney appealed her stay and wanted the 46-year-old Williams executed before his death warrant expires at midnight Wednesday.

Defense lawyers, in a filing Wednesday morning, argued that prosecutors have appealed only the stay of execution and not the judge's decision to throw out the death sentence and grant a new sentencing hearing.

If the state executed Williams, it would do so without a valid death sentence, the public defenders argued.

They will file an eleventh-hour plea to the U.S. Supreme Court if the state Supreme Court reverses the stay and prison officials prepare for a lethal injection.

Williams killed two men in his teens. He was 17 when he fatally stabbed a 50-year-old high school sports booster during a sex-linked argument at the man's apartment. He had turned 18 when he and a friend fatally beat the 56-year-old church deacon, Amos Norwood, in a cemetery five months later.

Williams, a gifted quarterback who led his high school to a city title, was having sex with homosexual men throughout his teens in exchange for money, gifts and clothes. He says Norwood had been sexually abusing him since he was 13. The jury heard only that Norwood was killed in a robbery. A Philadelphia judge found last week that prosecutors “sanitized” the real story, perhaps affecting the jury's decision to sentence Williams to death.

District Attorney Seth Williams, no relation to the defendant, insists Terry Williams is the rare defendant deserving of the death penalty, and he attacked the finding the trial prosecutor hid evidence of sexual abuse.

“(Williams) would have known better than anyone else possibly could, having murdered the other half of his alleged homosexual duo,” prosecutors wrote in a Supreme Court petition.

Sue McNaughton, a spokeswoman for the Corrections Department, wouldn't say whether Williams had been transferred to Rockview state prison in Bellefonte, where executions by lethal injection are carried out.

Williams would have been the first person executed in Pennsylvania in 50 years who had not abandoned his appeals.


Associated Press writer Peter Jackson contributed to this report from Harrisburg, Pa.