By Tony Hanson and Jericka Duncan
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Convicted Philadelphia murderer Terrance Williams is no longer on Death Row.
Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas judge Teresa Sarmina this morning vacated Williams’ controversial 1986 death sentence, ordering a new sentencing hearing for the 1984 murder of Amos Norwood, 56.
Sarmina ruled that authorities suppressed alleged evidence of sexual contact with boys by the murder victim, evidence she says might have mitigated the death penalty. She says the information was not turned over to the defense by prosecutors, thereby undermining her confidence in the jury’s sentence.
She added, however, that she is allowing Williams’ first-degree murder conviction to stand. She has ordered a new sentencing hearing for Williams.
Andrea Foulkes, who prosecuted the case in the 1980s, testified at a hearing last week that she had allegations and suspicions, but not proof of the sexual actions of the murder victim. The US attorney’s office in Philadelphia, where she now works, today issued a statement in support of her professionalism.
But Williams’ defense attorneys picked up on Judge Sarmina’s criticism of the prosecution.
“The judge not only found that they didn’t turn over (the evidence), the judge specifically found they sanitized the information that they did turn over, to conceal the evidence of abuse of teenage boys by Mr. Norwood,” said defense attorney Victor Abreu afterward. “That is very important.”
There was a smattering of applause in the courtroom as the judge announced her ruling.
Williams’ case had been getting increasing attention over the last couple of months. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett had signed the death warrant, and the execution has been scheduled for October 3rd (see related stories).
Philadelphia prosecutors could have appealed the judge’s ruling to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, held a new sentencing hearing, or allowed Williams to serve a life sentence.
In a strongly worded statement taking Judge Sarmina to task, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams (right) said today his office will appeal.
Read the full statement of DA Seth Williams (.pdf format)
The daughter of Amos Norwood, Barbara Norwood, said in a statement:
“Mr. Williams has never admitted guilt, but he has continued to uphold lies as a convicted killer and thief…I ask that the court uphold the death penalty for the safety of the community.”