Will Pennsylvania Execute A Victim Of Child Sexual Abuse?

September 12, 2012

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.

The Penn State / Jerry Sandusky case has focused a lot of attention on sexual abuse of children in Pennsylvania, and rightly so. Terrance Williams’ case represents an extreme result of allowing such abuse to go unchecked.

It doesn’t excuse his crimes, but certainly it should factor into his sentence. Yet at trial, the jury did not hear about the abuse, and also did not hear that life in Pennsylvania means life without parole; they issued a death sentence that almost half of them now regret.

Given the extraordinary circumstances surrounding this case, it cannot possibly serve any purpose to execute Terrance Williams, and the state should not allow it to happen.