Commonwealth v. Williams, Nos. 668 CAP, 669 CAP.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM.
Citation168 A.3d 97 (Mem)
Parties COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant v. Terrance WILLIAMS, Appellee Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Appellant v. Terrance L. Williams, Appellee
Decision Date22 August 2017
Docket NumberNos. 668 CAP, 669 CAP.

168 A.3d 97 (Mem)

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant
v.
Terrance WILLIAMS, Appellee

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Appellant
v.
Terrance L. Williams, Appellee

Nos. 668 CAP, 669 CAP.

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

SUBMITTED: August 25, 2016
August 22, 2017


Shawn Nolan, Esq., Defender Association of Philadelphia, for Appellee.

Peter Carr, Esq., Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, Hugh J. Burns, Esq., Amy Zapp, Esq., Office of Attorney General, for Appellant.

ORDER

PER CURIAM

AND NOW, this 22nd day of August, 2017, the Court being equally divided, the September 28, 2012 order of the PCRA court granting a stay of execution and ordering a new penalty phase trial is hereby AFFIRMED. The matter is remanded to the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County for a new penalty phase trial.

Justice Donohue files an opinion in support of affirmance in which Justice Wecht joins.

Justice Mundy files an opinion in support of reversal in which Justice Dougherty joins.

Chief Justice Saylor and Justices Baer and Todd did not participate in the consideration or decision of this matter.

OPINION IN SUPPORT OF AFFIRMANCE

JUSTICE DONOHUE

The Commonwealth appeals from the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County granting the petition for relief filed by Appellee, Terrence Williams ("Williams") pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act, 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 9541 –46 ("PCRA"). Because the certified record in this case amply supports the lower court's findings that the Commonwealth willfully suppressed material exculpatory evidence, and that this suppression of evidence prejudiced Williams during the penalty phase of his trial, we affirm the PCRA court's determination that Williams' PCRA petition successfully asserted a claim under Brady v. Maryland , 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963). We further affirm the PCRA court's decision to award Williams a new penalty phase trial.

In connection with a prior appeal, this Court offered the following brief summary of the facts underlying Williams' convictions of first degree murder, robbery and criminal conspiracy:

On June 11, 1984, [Williams] and Marc Draper lost their money gambling on a street corner. [Williams] left to get money from the victim, Amos Norwood, and returned with $10. Later, Norwood drove up to the two. [Williams] told Draper they were going to take some money from Norwood, and the three men left in Norwood's car. [Williams] directed Norwood to a secluded area
168 A.3d 98
where he and Draper forced Norwood out of the car, bound and gagged him, and then took money and other items from him. [Williams], with a tire iron, and Draper, with a wrench, beat Norwood to death and fled. Later that night, [Williams] returned and burned the body.

Commonwealth v. Williams , 581 Pa. 57, 863 A.2d 505, 509 (2004).

At trial in 1986, the Commonwealth offered the testimony of Mamie Norwood, the decedent's wife, and Reverend Charles Poindexter, the decedent's pastor, both of whom reviewed for the jury Amos Norwood's work with the youth in the church. N.T., 1/14/1986, at 60, 157–58, 140–41, 166–68, 172–74.1 Based in part on this testimony, in her closing argument in the penalty phase, the prosecutor, Andrea Foulkes, argued to the jury that Norwood was a "kind" and "innocent" man who had done nothing more than offer Williams a ride home, and that Williams had brutally killed him just get a small amount of money and two credit cards. N.T., 2/3/1986, at 1873–76. At the time Prosecutor Foulkes made this argument, she knew that the Commonwealth's files contained multiple documents, some in her own handwriting, demonstrating that Amos Norwood was neither kind nor innocent, and that he was in fact a sexual abuser of young adolescents, perhaps including Williams. Without this information, which was not provided to defense counsel as required by Brady , the jury returned a death sentence.

This Court affirmed the judgment of sentence. Commonwealth v Williams , 524 Pa. 218, 570 A.2d 75 (1990). On March 9, 2012, Williams filed his fourth PCRA petition, in which he alleged, based in part upon affidavits signed by Marc Draper, that, inter alia, (1) his trial counsel was ineffective for not introducing mitigating evidence at the penalty phase of his trial, and (2) the Commonwealth had suppressed evidence of statements made to Draper at the time of trial and promises made to him to induce his cooperation during trial. Judge Teresa Sarmina of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County ordered the Commonwealth to produce various discovery materials, including police homicide files for Williams' two murder convictions (Norwood and Herbert Hamilton) and all reports or notes relating to Draper or Norwood's sexual relationships with Williams or other children under the age of eighteen. On September 28, 2012, Judge Sarmina granted Williams' PCRA petition, vacated his death sentence and granted him a new penalty phase trial. This Court, by opinion dated December 15, 2014, vacated Judge Sarmina's order, dismissed the PCRA petition, and reinstated the death penalty. Commonwealth v. Williams , 629 Pa. 533, 105 A.3d 1234 (2014). The United States Supreme Court, by opinion dated June 9, 2016, vacated our decision and remanded it back to this Court for further proceedings. Williams v. Pennsylvania , ––– U.S. ––––, 136 S.Ct. 1899, 195 L.Ed.2d 132 (2016).

In her written opinion, Judge Sarmina issued a lengthy opinion that included numerous findings of fact, with credibility determinations based upon her observation of the two witnesses appearing at a September 2012 evidentiary hearing—Prosecutor Foulkes and witness Marc Draper. As this Court has repeatedly held, the findings of a PCRA court are entitled to "great deference":

168 A.3d 99
The findings of a post-conviction court, which hears evidence and passes on the credibility of witnesses, should be given great deference. We will not disturb the findings of the PCRA court if they are supported by the record, even where the record could support a contrary holding. Commonwealth v. Sullivan , 472 Pa. 129, 371 A.2d 468, 476 (Pa. 1977). This Court's scope of review is limited to the findings of the PCRA court and the evidence on the record of the PCRA court's hearing, viewed in the light most favorable to the prevailing party. See, e.g. , Commonwealth v. Meadius , 582 Pa. 174, 870 A.2d 802, 805 (Pa. 2005).

Commonwealth v. Jones , 590 Pa. 202, 912 A.2d 268, 293 (2006).

Based upon her exhaustive review of the evidence in the record, Judge Sarmina concluded that:

[T]he Commonwealth suppressed multiple pieces of evidence, all of which shared a common feature: each strengthened the inference that Amos Norwood was sexually involved with boys around [Williams'] age at the time of his murder. The Commonwealth withheld one such statement entirely and turned over to the defense two "sanitized" statements.... [T]he government interfered with [Williams'] ability to present the claim that his due process right to a fair trial had been violated. This claim has not been waived, nor previously litigated, as it is based on information discovered in September 2012. The suppression of this evidence, which could have been used to develop and pursue an alternate theory at the penalty phase, undermines confidence in the jury's death sentence, thereby constituting a meritorious claim of a constitutional violation under Brady v. Maryland , 373 U.S. 83 [83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215] (1963) and Cone v. Bell , 556 U.S. 449 [129 S.Ct. 1769, 173 L.Ed.2d 701] (2009).

PCRA Court Opinion, 11/27/2012, at 12–13 (footnotes omitted).

Judge Sarmina determined that the Commonwealth's decision to "sanitize" the witness statements of both Mamie Norwood and Reverend Poindexter interfered with Williams' ability to state a Brady claim until 2012:

By scrubbing these statements of references to Mr. Norwood's sexual improprieties and then providing "clean" versions [to the defense and courts], the government created the false impression that [Williams] was given the full account of what these witnesses stated. That false impression hobbled [Williams'] ability to discover or develop a Brady claim rooted in information removed from the scrubbed statements. That false impression was maintained by the Commonwealth until the original statements were found [in September 2012] in the government's files and some in the very handwriting of the trial prosecutor .... [T]hroughout the litigation of this case, the government has disputed the existence of information in their files about Amos Norwood's homosexual ephebophilia,[2 ] thus further interfering with [Williams] learning the facts that form the basis of the instant Brady claim.

Id. at 15.

Judge Sarmina concluded that Prosecutor Foulkes' actions were intentional and specifically designed to secure the death

168 A.3d 100

penalty she had failed to obtain in a prior death penalty case against Williams:

In the Herbert Hamilton case ... Ms. Foulkes aggressively sought a first degree murder conviction and imposition of the death penalty .... [T]he third degree verdict in the Hamilton case colored Ms. Foulkes' decisions when she prosecuted appellee for the murder of Amos Norwood. First, Ms. Foulkes identified what she believed to be the reason that the jury returned a "compromised" [third degree] verdict. And then she attempted to eliminate evidence which caused the "compromised" verdict from being presented to the [Norwood] jury. ... The "sexual overtones and relationships," which she credited with leading the [Hamilton] jury to reach a compromise verdict, revolved around the fact that a middle-aged man may have been paying [Williams], still in his teens, for sex.

* * *

Ms. Foulkes admitted to this [c]ourt that her knowledge of [Williams'] sexual past created an obvious implication that his relationship with Amos Norwood was substantially similar to his relationship with Herbert Hamilton .... But Ms. Foulkes made certain that the jury did not see that sexual connection.
...

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6 practice notes
  • Commonwealth v. Reid, No. 752 CAP
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • 18 Agosto 2020
    ...a stay of execution and a new penalty phase trial was affirmed by an equally divided Court. See Commonwealth v. Williams , 641 Pa. 283, 168 A.3d 97 (2017).4 Appellant filed a motion for discovery contemporaneously with his petition, seeking "disclosure of any authorization documents or othe......
  • Commonwealth v. Lynn, 1105 EDA 2020
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • 9 Agosto 2021
    ...Williams, this Court noted that the PCRA court in that case had defined ephebophilia as the "sexual attraction of adults to adolescents." 168 A.3d 97, 99 n.2 (Pa. Super. 2017). [9]As the Commonwealth recognizes in its Submission of Synopsis of Evidence Pertaining to List of Sexually Abusive......
  • Commonwealth v. Persaud, 1521 MDA 2020
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Superior Court
    • 15 Marzo 2022
    ...been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome. Commonwealth v. Williams, 168 A.3d 97, 109 (Pa. 2017) (citations, quotation marks, and brackets omitted). Further, "[t]o obtain a new trial based on the Commonwealth's failure to dis......
  • United States v. Koerber, Case No. 2:17-CR-37
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Court of Utah
    • 31 Agosto 2018
    ...assurance that no member of the court is predisposed to find against him") (internal quotation marks omitted); Commonwealth v. Williams, 168 A.3d 97 (Pa. 2017) (following Supreme Court decision, remanding for new penalty phase trial). Therefore, the argument regarding Judge Nuffer's failure......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3 cases
  • Commonwealth v. Reid, No. 752 CAP
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • 18 Agosto 2020
    ...a stay of execution and a new penalty phase trial was affirmed by an equally divided Court. See Commonwealth v. Williams , 641 Pa. 283, 168 A.3d 97 (2017).4 Appellant filed a motion for discovery contemporaneously with his petition, seeking "disclosure of any authorization documents or......
  • Commonwealth v. Lynn, 1105 EDA 2020
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • 9 Agosto 2021
    ...this Court noted that the PCRA court in that case had defined ephebophilia as the "sexual attraction of adults to adolescents." 168 A.3d 97, 99 n.2 (Pa. Super. 2017). [9]As the Commonwealth recognizes in its Submission of Synopsis of Evidence Pertaining to List of Sexually Abusive......
  • United States v. Koerber, Case No. 2:17-CR-37
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Court of Utah
    • 31 Agosto 2018
    ...that no member of the court is predisposed to find against him") (internal quotation marks omitted); Commonwealth v. Williams, 168 A.3d 97 (Pa. 2017) (following Supreme Court decision, remanding for new penalty phase trial). Therefore, the argument regarding Judge Nuffer's failure to r......

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