Pennsylvania High Court to Rule on Death Penalty Moratorium

Pennsylvania's highest court said Tuesday it will rule on the legality of Gov. Tom Wolf's month-old death penalty moratorium.

The Supreme Court granted a request by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams to review the governor's policy, but declined to put the matter on fast track.

In a brief order, the justices said they want to hear argument about whether they should have taken up the matter at all, along with briefs that lay out the legal issues in the underlying dispute.

The case centers on a reprieve issued by Wolf to Terrance Williams, on death row for the fatal tire-iron beating of a man in Philadelphia in 1984.

"We're pleased that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has decided to take up the issue," said the prosecutor's spokesman, Cameron Kline. "It shows they took our argument seriously."

A lawyer for Terrance Williams said he was happy the high court left the reprieve in place, and said Williams and other boys had been abused by the victim.

"The time has come for the district attorney to heed the call from the victim's widow, jurors, child advocates, victim's rights advocates and over 375,000 people who do not want Terry Williams executed," defense attorney Shawn Nolan said in an email.

Messages seeking comment from Wolf's office were not immediately returned. The Supreme Court order directed that Wolf be added to the case as a party.

Wolf said in announcing the policy that he considers the state's death penalty system to be error-prone and expensive. He plans to issue reprieves while a legislative panel studies the issue.

Terrance Williams had been scheduled for execution on Wednesday, but the state has only executed three people since the death penalty was restored in 1976, most recently in 1999. All three had voluntarily relinquished their appeals. Pennsylvania does not currently have the drugs needed for its lethal injection procedure.

In a description of the case filed with the high court last month, the district attorney's office said Terrance Williams and another man left the dead victim between two tombstones in Ivy Hill Cemetery, and the defendant later returned and set the corpse on fire. He used the victim's stolen credit card to gamble in Atlantic City, then to buy gold chains from a jewelry store, prosecutors told the justices.

Terrance Williams testified on his own behalf, blaming the murder on two other men and saying he did not know the victim, prosecutors said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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