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Pennsylvania Stay Stays

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Joseph Slobodzian reports for the Philadelphia Inquirer:

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has refused a prosecution plea to reinstate today's execution of condemned Philadelphia killer Terrance Williams.

At about 3:45 p.m., the court in a one-sentence order denied the District Attorney's emergency motion and ordered court personnel to draft a schedule for filing legal briefs and, perhaps, an oral argument.

The state's high court decision let stand last Friday's ruling by Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina that the 1986 trial prosecutor made Williams' death sentence more likely by withholding information that Williams was sexually molested by his victim.

In one sense, this case is similar to another notorious Pennsylvania case, Rompilla v. Beard.  In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court said that the lawyer was ineffective for not discovering information about Rompilla's troubled childhood.  But Rompilla himself knew all about that and chose not to tell his lawyer.  Prosecutors have a duty to disclose exculpatory information, but in this case Williams himself knew much more about the relevant facts than the prosecutors.  The District Attorney's statement on the trial judge's ruling says:

But how in the world could the prosecutor have "suppressed" information that was in the defendant's own head?  If the defendant was really involved with Mr. Norwood, who would know better than the defendant?  Only one other person could have known the truth - and he is dead, because Terrance Williams tied up his hands and feet, gagged him with a sock, beat him to death with a tire iron, burned his body beyond recognition, and then took his car to go on a gambling spree in Atlantic City with the victim's credit cards.

In her entire 45-minute ruling, the judge never once mentioned that fact.  She never once mentioned that Terrance Williams himself has never testified that he was abused.  In fact, at his trial he took the stand and swore under oath that Mr. Norwood and he were total strangers, and that he had nothing to do with the murder.

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Furthermore, Williams was a strapping, 18 year- old college football player. His victim and alleged sexual molestor was 5'6" tall and weighed 130 pounds.

What ever happened to the "laugh test"?

"Death is different."

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