September 28, 2012

Today, just days before the scheduled execution of Terry Williams — a victim of long-time childhood sexual abuse — justice prevailed when state court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina vacated Mr. Williams' death sentence. The National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women, an organization that assists victims of abuse whose criminal charges are directly related to the abuse they experienced applauds and supports Judge Sarmina's decision. Terry Williams' experiences of abuse were directly related to the crimes for which he was charged and yet, in the case for which he received the death sentence, the jury never knew about the sexual abuse he was subjected to by the decedent. At least five jurors have signed affidavits stating that they would not have voted for death had they be told all relevant information including that the decedent knew Terry Williams and that he had been sexually abusing Terry Williams for years.

But, we just learned in a statement from District Attorney Seth Williams that his office is going to appeal this decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Enough is enough! We believe that the right and just thing would be for the DA to accept Judge Sarmina's decision and to stop any and all wasteful appeals immediately.

Why is the Philadelphia District Attorney's office fighting so hard to execute Terry Williams? In whose name are they digging in so deeply that they are unwilling or unable to step back even a little bit to see the bigger issue here: that at trial, their false characterization of the decedent as an innocent and kind man who was just giving kids a ride home sent Terry Williams to death row? Seth Williams says that [the appeal] “is about preserving the integrity of the jury's verdict and sentence.” But that is beyond disingenuous: almost half of the original jurors (of whom only 8 are still living) have said in sworn statements that the sentence lacked integrity because they were not given all the relevant evidence (about the decedent's proclivity for preying on teenage boys — including Terry Williams, Terry Williams life-long experiences of abuse, and about not being told that a life sentence in Pennsylvania does mean that the defendant will spend the rest of his/her life in prison).

What does the Philadelphia DA think will be gained by executing a long-time victim of sexual and other forms of abuse who had just turned 18 at the time of the crime? Not even the decedent's widow supports the execution. The Philadelphia District Attorney has accused Terry Williams and his defense team of posturing to avoid punishment when they know Terry has been pleading to spend the rest of it in prison. Wouldn't the huge amount of resources the Philadelphia District Attorney's office is expending to try to execute Terry Williams be better spent on trying to protect other victims of sexual assault? Had Terry Williams been protected back when he was a child, it is likely that he would not even be in prison today, let alone fighting to have his life spared.

Sue Osthoff
Director
National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women
Philadelphia, PA