Condemned Killer Could Still Be Executed Wednesday

A judge granted Terrance Williams a stay of execution last week, but an appeal could overturn that ruling in time to execute him Wednesday.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    In 1986, Terrance "Terry" Williams convicted of the murder of Amos Norwood.

    If Terrance Williams is executed, it will be an event strictly supervised by the state.

    For now, the 46-year-old Williams has a stay of his scheduled execution, which would be the first in Pennsylvania in more than a decade. A state judge has vacated his death sentence and ordered a new sentencing hearing after finding last week that prosecutors hid evidence at his 1986 trial.
     
    But Philadelphia prosecutors have appealed to the state's high court to overturn that ruling and reinstate the death penalty in time to execute Williams on Wednesday. His death warrant expires at midnight.
     
    If he is executed, his death would be carried out according to a bureaucratic script under the steely supervision of the state government.
     
    Williams would spend the hours leading up to the 7 p.m. execution in a holding cell in a converted field hospital on the grounds of Rockview state prison in Bellefonte, Corrections Department spokeswoman Sue McNaughton said in describing the procedure.
     
    The inmate may have non-contact visits with members of his immediate family. He can order his last meal -- from a menu that includes hamburger, chicken, breaded fish and pizza and chocolate, vanilla or strawberry ice cream -- but must eat it in his cell.
     
    He can write his final statement, dictate it to be typed by someone else or make no statement. He may meet with his attorney until 6 p.m., and with a spiritual adviser until 6:30.

    During the last hour, the inmate will be handcuffed and escorted to the execution chamber by six corrections officers _ one for each arm and leg, one for his feet and one for his head _ who will strap him face-up on the gurney to receive a lethal injection.

    Around the same time, on the other side of a curtained window, witnesses including citizens, reporters and victims' representatives will be permitted into a seating area where they can view portions of the execution, McNaughton said.
     
    An open telephone connection would be maintained between the governor's office and the prison to expedite word of any last-minute action that would stop the execution. Gov. Tom Corbett planned to be in Harrisburg, either at his Capitol office or his office at the governor's residence, in case he needs to intervene, said his spokesman, Kevin Harley.
     
    The curtain over the execution chamber window remains closed as a mysterious "lethal injection team" enters the chamber and inserts an intravenous line into the prisoner's outstretched arm. Officials refuse to identify or discuss the team members for reasons of safety and privacy, except to say they have the necessary training.
     
    The curtain will be opened for the first time after the injection team leaves the chamber and administers the first drug in the deadly intravenous ``cocktail'' _ pentobarbital, a sedative. It will be closed again while the team returns to confirm that the inmate is unconscious, then reopened after the team leaves to administer the pancuronium bromide, a paralytic agent; and finally the potassium chloride that will stop the heart.
     
    Once the inmate's brain activity stops, the curtain is closed while a coroner confirms he is dead. The curtain is opened again while the prison superintendent announces that the inmate is dead and then closed as the witnesses are escorted out.
     
    The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Patriot-News sued state officials in federal court this week to let witnesses view the entire execution process.
     
    Unless the inmate makes other arrangements, his body is cremated at state expense.

    Williams, 46, of Philadelphia, was sentenced to death in 1987 for the bludgeoning murder of an older man. He lives at Greene state prison in southwestern Pennsylvania in a single cell where he spends up to 22 hours a day and is allowed only non-contact visits.
     
    On Friday, Williams' lawyers and death-penalty foes celebrated a ruling by a Philadelphia judge who halted the scheduled Wednesday execution and granted Williams a new sentencing hearing.
     
    Judge M. Teresa Sarmina said prosecutors suppressed evidence that Williams' victim was an alleged pedophile who abused boys, including Williams, so jurors were not aware of those allegations when they voted to impose the death penalty.
     
    As the time left for the execution melted from days to hours, it was unclear whether a pending appeal by the Philadelphia district attorney's office would persuade the state Supreme Court to overrule Sarmina's ruling and put the execution back on track for Wednesday.
     
    If Williams is not executed by midnight Wednesday, Corbett would have 30 days to issue a new death warrant, to be carried out within 60 days, unless Williams is pardoned or granted a life sentence. 
     
    Kathleen Lucas, director of the York-based Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said the group's leaders had been starting to make plans to stage a vigil outside the prison to protest Williams' execution.
     
    The group wants to abolish capital punishment in Pennsylvania because of racial and economic inequities in the way it is applied, but mainly because of its finality.
     
    "It's not a question of whether someone deserves to die for what they did. The question is, 'do we have the right to kill?'" Lucas said.