Death row case “under advisement” by Pardons Board

For the second time in 10 days, the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons in Harrisburg heard the case of a death row inmate set to die October 3.

Their first ruling did not result in clemency for Terry Williams. But on Thursday, the board ruled to take the case “under advisement,” a form of legal limbo they will wait in until Friday, when a Philadelphia judge is set to rule on the same case and consider the same arguments.

Williams killed two Philadelphia men in the early 1980's at the age of 18. Though he didn't raise the issue at trial, Williams now claims he was sexually abused by his two victims.

His attorney, Shawn Nolan, told the Pardons Board that Philadelphia prosecutors suppressed evidence from defense attorneys and jurors in the original trial. Nolan said new evidence, recently uncovered, proves that prosecutors suspected Williams' victims were child abusers.

Prosecutors knew, he argued, and didn't share that information. 

“Mr. Williams would not have gotten the death sentence if the actual truth had come out,” Nolan said after the Board of Pardons voted unanimously to take the case under advisement.

Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Tom Dolgenos countered his argument.

“The evidence that we supposedly suppressed were unverified rumors.” 

He said there was no wrongdoing by his office.

The case now shifts to a Philadelphia judge and her Friday morning ruling on whether there was prosecutorial misconduct. And if there was, does it warrant a stay in William's execution.  

But for now, the execution is still on. It would be the first contested death penalty in Pennsylvania in 50 years: for the three executions in the 1990's, the inmates stopped their appeals.

“The significance is huge,” Nolan said “Our positron has been, you know of all that time, you're gonna pick this case to execute Terry Williams? After all of the sexual abuse he suffered, all of these years?”

Many are suggesting that Williams sentence should be reduced from death to life without parole. After all, they reason, he'll never get out. Dolgenos sees it differently.

“What I'm hearing suggested is that we give up because of allegations about which there is really no evidence because it's easier. Ultimately, that's not our job. I think the community demands we go forward [with the death penalty].”

Nolan blamed the DA's office, Williams original defense attorney and the victims by suggesting they abused Williams. Dolgenos says Nolan is missing the real wrong-doer in the case.

“Ultimately the person who did something wrong here was Terrance Williams and he did something wrong multiple times. He murdered multiple people.”

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