Pennsylvania Child Sex Abuse Victim Gets Execution Stay

Update 10/3: Terrance Williams had his stay of execution upheld. The PA Supreme Court, despite the participation of its chief judge with a flagrant conflict of interest, affirmed his stay of execution, and will at a later date consider last week’s ruling in a Philadelphia court that Williams should get a new sentencing hearing because of serious prosecutor misconduct.

The judge in that ruling cited prosecutors for suppressing evidence that Williams committed his crime in response to being sexually abused, a motive that would likely have caused the jury to issue a sentence other than death. Today the PA Supreme Court agreed to take its time reviewing that decision, and so state prosecutors will have to put the brakes on their strangely zealous pursuit of Williams’ execution – an execution the victim’s widow and 5 members of the jury don’t want anyway.

On October 3, Pennsylvania was scheduled to execute Terrance Williams. He was sent to death row for killing Amos Norwood, a man who repeatedly sexually abused him as a teenager.  Evidence of this motive appears to have been withheld from his defense.

Had the jury heard that the killing was in response to years of sexual abuse, it’s likely they would have voted for a sentence other than death. That’s why Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina has granted a stay of execution. She also granted a new sentencing hearing for Terrance Williams, writing that “Evidence has plainly been suppressed“. She also wrote that prosecutor Andrea Foulkes was “playing fast and loose.” and “had no problem disregarding her ethical obligations”.

Of course, the state may appeal this decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. They shouldn’t, and this execution should be called off permanently.

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Will Pennsylvania Execute A Victim Of Child Sexual Abuse?

Terrance Williams is facing execution in Pennsylvania on October 3.  Repeatedly sexually abused by older boys and men as a youth (starting when he was six years old), he was sent to death row for killing Amos Norwood – one of his abusers, according to the clemency petition – three months after his 18th birthday.

What Terrance Williams did was, indeed, criminal.  Killing is never an appropriate response, even to the most heinous of abuses.

But maybe that’s the point.

Wouldn’t killingTerrance Williams now, in retaliation for his crime, be just as wrong as the crime Williams committed in response to the abuse he suffered?  Lots of people think so.

Five of the trial jurors, the widow of the victim, and 30 child advocates and experts on child abuse have called on Pennsylvania to commute the death sentence in this case. So have 18 former prosecutors, 8 retired judges, and 47 mental health professionals.

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No Execution For Mumia Abu-Jamal

Mumia Abu-Jamal © AFP/Getty Images

Mumia Abu-Jamal will no longer be facing execution.  He should be getting a new trial.

In October, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to reinstate the death sentence that had been overturned by a lower court. So today, Philadelphia prosecutors threw in the towel, announcing that they will not seek a new death sentence in Abu-Jamal’s case, instead allowing his sentence to be automatically commuted to life without parole.

But, over ten years, ago, Amnesty International concluded in its report, “The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Life in the Balance” that Mumia Abu-Jamal’s original trial utterly failed to meet international fair trial standards. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Remembering 9/11

On September 11th, 2001, my wife and son were in Logan Airport waiting to board a flight to New York. I was almost 4,000 miles away working in Mostar, Bosnia.

At the time I was a war crimes investigator working for the United Nations and I was in Mostar to take a statement from a former Bosnian Prisoner of War who had been tortured by his captors.

When we finished for the day I went next door to a small café and my eye was drawn to the television in the corner, which was running footage of emergency crews responding to some kind of major disaster.

It took a few minutes for the full story of what had happened in New York to unfold and, as it did so, my blood ran cold.

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Murder Trial of 13-Year-Old Jordan Brown Could Violate International Law

Jordan Brown Tomorrow, Pennsylvania’s Superior Court is set to hear an appeal against an earlier decision to try 13-year-old Jordan Brown in an adult court.

Jordan is charged with killing Kenzie Houk, his father’s pregnant fiancée, in 2009, when he was 11 years old; he is charged with two counts of homicide.

Amnesty International has urged US authorities in Pennsylvania not to try Jordan in an adult court, as doing so could result in a violation of international law. If tried as an adult and convicted of first-degree murder, he would face life imprisonment without parole.

Jordan Brown is the youngest person known to Amnesty to be currently at risk of being sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.  The US is the only country we know of in the world that pursues life imprisonment without parole against children – and it does so regularly. Currently there are at least 2,500 people who are serving life imprisonment without parole for crimes committed before they turned 18.

The USA and Somalia are also the only countries in the world that have not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits life imprisonment without the possibility of release for crimes committed under the age of 18. Amnesty International is calling on the US to bring its laws in line with international standards on the treatment of children accused of criminal offenses.

It is shocking that anyone this young could face life imprisonment without parole, let alone in a country which labels itself as a progressive force for human rights.