A death-row inmate facing a possible execution Wednesday wants Pennsylvania's chief justice to step down from his case, given that the justice supervised the case as Philadelphia's district attorney and a judge last week found his staff hid evidence at trial.
Lawyers for Terrance “Terry” Williams argue that Chief Justice Ronald Castille should recuse himself because Castille supervised Williams' murder case and signed off on the 1986 death-penalty prosecution.
At the moment, Williams has a reprieve of his scheduled execution. A Philadelphia judge has thrown out the death sentence after finding new evidence last week that prosecutors withheld important evidence from defense lawyers and the jury.
But prosecutors are appealing that decision to Castille's court. The execution warrant is valid through Wednesday, should the Supreme Court overturn the lower court's ruling.
A court spokesman did not immediately return a message on Castille's behalf.
Williams, 46, would be the first person executed in Pennsylvania in 50 years who had not abandoned his appeals.
He's on death row for killing two men by age 18. He now says both victims, a 56-year-old church deacon and 50-year-old sports booster, had been sexually abusing him. He has acknowledged that older men were paying him for sex as a teen.
In the recusal motion filed Monday, federal public defenders argue that Castille has a clear conflict of interest after approving his staff's decision to seek the death-penalty in Williams' second murder trial. And they say he has previously shown antagonism toward their office in denying recusal motions in some of the 45 other death penalty cases he oversaw during his tenure in Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia jury sentenced Williams to death for fatally beating 56-year-old Amos Norwood in a cemetery. Jurors heard only that the motive was robbery. Williams and an accomplice were caught after using a credit card they'd taken from the victim.
However, the accomplice, Marc Draper, testified last week that he told police and the trial prosecutor that Norwood and Williams had a sexual relationship. He said they didn't want to hear it, and told him to stick to the robbery motive at trial. Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina found that notes unearthed last week from the original police files, along with the trial prosecutor's notes, confirmed Draper's account.
She vacated Williams' death sentence on Friday, five days before the scheduled execution. Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams filed an appeal by day's end. He said the death penalty should be rare, but he believes it is justified in the Terrance Williams case.
There are currently about 200 people on Pennsylvania's death row. Only three people have been executed since the death penalty was restored in 1978.
Norwood's widow and five jurors are among those who have signed petitions to spare Williams' life. The jurors said they would have voted for a life sentence had they known of the alleged abuse and understand that a life sentence means life in Pennsylvania. Lifers never have a chance for parole, but juries do not have to be told that.