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Pennsylvania high court upholds stay of execution for Terrance Williams

By David Ariosto, CNN
updated 1:01 AM EDT, Thu October 4, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The court denied prosecutors an emergency petition to have Terrance Williams, 46, put to death
  • His attorneys have argued that the jurors were told that it was strictly a robbery-homicide case
  • Defense team: Allegations that the victim had sexually abused Williams were withheld from trial

(CNN) -- Pennsylvania's highest court Wednesday upheld a judge's earlier decision to grant a stay of execution for a man who says the person he killed had sexually abused him years earlier.

The court's decision denied prosecutors an emergency petition to have Terrance Williams, 46, put to death on Wednesday, though the court could decide at a later point to have the execution go forward.

"As the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has now confirmed, Judge (M. Teresa) Sarmina's grant of a stay was factually and legally sound," said attorney Shawn Nolan. "The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office should stop its pursuit to execute Terry Williams."

No one disputes that Williams beat Amos Norwood to death with a tire iron in 1984 or that he should be in prison. But his defense team says information that Norwood had allegedly sexually abused Williams was withheld from the trial, and his life should be spent in a cell.

Attorneys ask Pennsylvania judge to call off killer's execution, citing sex abuse

Last week, Sarmina, a common pleas court judge in Philadelphia, found "reasonable probability" that the verdict might have been different had allegations of abuse surfaced during the initial case and that the relationship between the two men had been established but not disclosed.

His attorneys have argued that the jurors who convicted Williams more than 25 years ago were told that it was a robbery-homicide case and never learned of the abuse allegations.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams filed an emergency appeal, and has called the abuse allegations hearsay and "a last-ditch effort to escape punishment."

Williams, the district attorney, said that although the high court denied the immediate review of the case, the ruling means the case would now proceed as a normal appeal.

"The Supreme Court will now have the time to look at all the facts," the district attorney said in a statement. "I continue to believe that this defendant received an appropriate sentence and that his new claims are not true."

Williams and accomplice Marc Draper led Norwood, 56, to an area near a cemetery, forced him to lie on the ground, tied him up, gagged him and stole his valuables, the governor's office said in a statement.

"Williams and Draper repeatedly beat the man with a tire iron and a socket wrench and then drove away in the victim's car. Williams later returned and burned Norwood's body," the statement said. Draper is serving a life sentence.

Since the execution date was set, a number of high-profile supporters have called for clemency in the case, including Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly. More than 360,000 people have signed an online petition asking authorities to spare Williams' life. Norwood's widow has also asked for the execution to be called off.

But Norwood's daughter wants the execution to go forward, the Philadelphia district attorney's office said.

She said Friday that accusations of sexual abuse were false and asked the court to uphold the death penalty.

CNN's Sheila Steffen contributed to this report

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