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NCDBW Letter Supporting Clemency for Terry Williams

September 4, 2012

Governor Tom Corbett
225 Main Capitol
Harrisburg, PA 17120

Pennsylvania Board of Pardons
333 Market Street, 15th Floor
Harrisburg, PA 17126


Re: Clemency for Terrance Williams


Dear Honorable Governor Corbett and the Honorable Members of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons:


I am writing to you on behalf of the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women to urge you to commute the death sentence of Terrance Williams to a life sentence. This case calls out for mercy for many reasons including the fact that the jury and judge never heard profoundly mitigating information about years of horrendous sexual abuse, including by the decedent. As a result, the jury did not have the evidence they needed to accurately and fairly consider and weigh possible mitigating circumstances, circumstances that would have moved jurors to vote against a sentence of death.

The National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women, founded in 1987 and located in Philadelphia, is a nonprofit resource and advocacy organization that assists victims of abuse and trauma who have been charged with crimes and their defense teams. Through our work we know how difficult it is for victims to speak about what, for many, is unspeakable:  ongoing sexual assaults and rapes. And, unfortunately, for those like Mr. Williams who are rebuffed or punished for trying to talk about their experiences of abuse, they become even more reticent about sharing any information about their experiences of abuse. Many victims of trauma, especially male victims of sexual assault, are unable to tell anyone about what happened to them, often for many years.


Given the fact that Mr. Williams's childhood and adolescence was marred by severe and constant physical and sexual abuse, it is not surprising that he did not reveal information about these experiences for a very long period of time. Mr. Williams's was subjected, repeatedly starting at an early age, to beatings, rape, and sexual coercion. These ongoing assaults had a debilitating impact on his mental health and functioning; indeed, the appalling abuse he suffered defined how he viewed the world and his place in it. But the jury didn't know about the horrors that Mr. Williams suffered, and the ways in which these various traumas impacted him throughout his young life. As a result, they had no way to accurately assess whether Mr. Williams case was one that called for mercy.

There is no guesswork about the impact of the evidence about Mr. Williams's experiences of abuse would have had on the outcome of this case. Several jurors have sworn that had they known about the sexual abuse that Mr. Williams suffered, they would not have sent him to death row.

Not only did the jury not hear about Mr. Williams's lifetime of horrific abuse, they also did not hear about the direct, relevant role that abuse played in both the crime for which he was convicted, and the prior homicide presented to the jury by the prosecution. The decedents in Mr. Williams's two homicide cases were two of the many people that subjected Mr. Williams to sexual assault and trauma. This crucial information would have given the jury the context it needed to understand how Mr. Williams's actions and responses were affected by trauma that he endured. Instead of merely viewing the incident as motivated by greed and a disregard for the value of human life, the jury would have been given information that could have cast Mr. Williams's actions and state of mind in an entirely different light and been given evidence that was unquestionably mitigating.

Like many victims of abuse, Mr. Williams did not and could not disclose his victimization to trial counsel, or to others, at the time he was facing trial for this incident. Though it is difficult to understand, there are innumerable reasons why Mr. Williams, even when he was on trial for murder, would hold back information that could have saved his life. From the time he was a boy, Mr. Williams's predators used many tactics to ensure his silence: promises of a better life, threats of further harm, fear of exposure. The resulting guilt, shame, and fear had the desired effect: like many abuse victims, Mr. Williams internalized his guilt and shame and told no one about the abuse.

The sentencing jury and judge received a grossly incomplete account of Mr. Williams's life. They were deprived of necessary information about compelling mitigating circumstances and, therefore, could not make an informed and just sentencing decision. It is known that the outcome of this case would have been different if the jury had been able to deliberate Mr. Williams's culpability with a complete picture of the chronic sexual and physical abuse that plagued Mr. Williams's short 18 years.

The National Clearinghouse believes that justice can only be achieved when juries and judges are given all the relevant evidence needed to accurately and fairly evaluate mitigation, especially when facing the extraordinary duty of determining whether a defendant should live or die. The jury did not have the information they needed to act mercifully in this case; but you do. You have the power to right a terrible wrong.

For these reasons, and for the other compelling reasons articulated by Mr. Williams's counsel, I ask you to do the right and just thing and commute Mr. Williams's sentence to life in prison.


Sue Osthoff

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