Commonwealth v. Williams, Nos. 668 CAP

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtJustice EAKIN.
Citation105 A.3d 1234
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant, v. Terrance WILLIAMS, Appellee. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Appellant, v. Terrance L. Williams, Appellee.
Docket NumberNos. 668 CAP
Decision Date15 December 2014

105 A.3d 1234

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant
v.
Terrance WILLIAMS, Appellee.


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

Nos. 668 CAP

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Submitted Sept. 18, 2013.
Decided Dec. 15, 2014.


105 A.3d 1235

Hugh J. Burns Jr., Esq., Philadelphia, for Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Peter Carr, Esq., Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, Amy Zapp, Esq., PA Office of Attorney General, for Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

105 A.3d 1236

Billy Horatio Nolas, Esq., Federal Community Defender Office, Eastern District of PA, for Terrance Williams.

CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, STEVENS, JJ.

OPINION

Justice EAKIN.

The Commonwealth appeals from the order granting a stay of execution, vacating appellee's death sentence, and awarding a new penalty hearing under the Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA), 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 9541 –9546. We vacate the stay of execution and the grant of a new penalty phase, and reinstate the sentence of death.

Appellee was sentenced to death after being convicted of the robbery and murder of Amos Norwood February 3, 1986, his second murder conviction. A detailed account of the crime is set forth in our opinion on direct appeal. See Commonwealth v. Williams, 524 Pa. 218, 570 A.2d 75, 77–79 (1990). Suffice it to say, appellee and his co-conspirator, Marc Draper, took Norwood to a graveyard, tied him with his own clothes, and beat him to death with a tire iron—appellee returned the next day and set fire to the corpse. At trial, appellee testified that Draper and another individual committed the crime; he claimed he was elsewhere at the time and uninvolved. He testified he did not know the victim, had never seen him before, and had no reason to be angry with him or wish to harm him. This Court affirmed the judgment of sentence February 8, 1990, id., at 84, and appellee did not seek certiorari. He filed a timely PCRA petition March 24, 1995.

At the 1998 PCRA hearing, now represented by the Federal Community Defenders Office (FCDO), appellee abandoned his trial testimony and argued Norwood engaged in homosexual acts with him, and as set forth below, presented evidence supporting this claim. The PCRA court denied relief, and this Court affirmed. Commonwealth v. Williams, 581 Pa. 57, 863 A.2d 505, 523 (2004). Appellee filed a second PCRA petition February 18, 2005, which was dismissed as untimely. This Court affirmed. Commonwealth v. Williams, 589 Pa. 355, 909 A.2d 297 (2006) (per curiam ). Appellee filed a third PCRA petition June 1, 2005, which was dismissed as untimely, and we affirmed. Commonwealth v. Williams, 599 Pa. 495, 962 A.2d 609 (2009) (per curiam ).

While that PCRA appeal was pending before this Court, appellee filed a federal habeas corpus petition December 19, 2005, which was denied. The Third Circuit affirmed. Williams v. Beard, 637 F.3d 195, 238 (3d Cir.2011). In his federal appeal, appellee contended trial counsel was ineffective for failing to present evidence he was psychologically damaged by years of sexual abuse, which infused him with rage toward men who made sexual advances toward him; appellee argued Norwood was one of these men and had been sexually abusing him since the age of 13. Appellee petitioned the United States Supreme Court for certiorari, which was denied. Williams v. Wetzel, ––– U.S. ––––, 133 S.Ct. 65, 183 L.Ed.2d 711 (2012) (per curiam ).

On January 9, 2012, the FCDO visited Draper, who was serving a life sentence at SCI–Frackville. That same day, Draper signed an affidavit declaring he told detectives and the prosecution prior to trial that Norwood was a homosexual and was in a relationship with appellee. The affidavit also claimed the prosecution “wanted the motive to be a robbery and kept coming back to that. That's how they wanted me to testify, that it was a robbery.” Draper's Affidavit, 1/9/12, at 4. The FCDO revisited

105 A.3d 1237

Draper March 1, 2012, obtaining another affidavit with similar declarations.

Appellee then filed this facially untimely PCRA petition March 9, 2012, his fourth state petition for collateral review. On July 27, 2012, he filed a “Supplemental Petition for Post Conviction Relief and Notice of Filing Additional Evidence in Support of Stay of Execution,” although no execution warrant had been signed. An execution warrant was subsequently issued August 8, 2012, setting the execution for October 3, 2012. Appellee filed a “Renewed Motion for Stay of Execution” August 28, 2012, and the Commonwealth filed a response September 7, 2012. On September 6, 2012, appellee filed a motion for discovery, requesting the production of exculpatory information from the Commonwealth “as well as any reports or notes made concerning Norwood's sexual relationship or sexual abuse of [appellee] or any other child under the age of 18.” Appellee's Motion for Discovery, 9/6/12, at 5–6.

On September 10, 2012, the PCRA court heard argument on the pleadings to determine whether the petition warranted an evidentiary hearing. The court gave appellee time to obtain and submit additional information from Draper, which led to his third affidavit, dated September 11, 2012. On September 14, the court heard additional argument and ordered an evidentiary hearing, which began September 20; only Draper and the trial prosecutor testified. On Saturday, September 22, the court ordered the Commonwealth to produce trial files and Philadelphia Police Department files and allowed both parties to review those files.1 On September 24, documents from these files were offered and admitted into evidence, and the PCRA court entered 11 exhibits sua sponte. See Exhibit List, 9/20/12. The court then directed appellee to amend his PCRA petition; on September 28, appellee filed an “Amendment and Supplement to Petition for Post–Conviction Relief,” requesting relief because the Commonwealth had given “sanitized” witness statements to the defense. The same afternoon, the court ruled there was a Brady2 violation because that which was missing from original discovery suggested Norwood may have been a “homosexual ephebophiliac.” PCRA Court Opinion, 11/27/12, at 12–13 (citations omitted).3

The PCRA court also concluded appellee's fourth PCRA petition met the “governmental interference” exception to the PCRA's timeliness requirement, 42 Pa.C.S. § 9545(b)(1)(i),4 though it did not meet the “newly-discovered evidence” exception, id., § 9545(b)(1)(ii).5 The court ordered a stay

105 A.3d 1238

of execution pursuant to § 9545(c)(2),6 finding appellee exceeded the “strong likelihood” threshold and demonstrated actual success on the merits of his claim regarding the penalty phase. The court held the Commonwealth violated Brady and found appellee identified a specific claim, Norwood's homosexual ephebophilia, which he was unable to discover or develop due to interference by the Commonwealth. The interference consisted of withholding or “sanitizing” three specific pieces of evidence: a statement by Norwood's wife, a statement by the pastor of appellee's church, and notes made by the prosecutor.

The first statement involved a story Norwood's wife told police, which was omitted from the 1984 police activity sheet. She said Norwood once woke her at 2 a.m. and asked her for money while a young male stood in the hall outside their bedroom. She saw Norwood load stereo equipment into his car and drive away with the young male. She told police she believed this to be a kidnapping; when Norwood returned home around 9 a.m., he said he was abducted but escaped by using psychology on his captors. When his wife tried to call the police, Norwood asked her to avoid their involvement.

The second statement was from appellee's pastor, who was also a friend of Norwood. The pastor told police Norwood worked with and counseled young males in the church for many years. Omitted from the 1984 activity sheet was the pastor's suspicion that Norwood may have been a homosexual, and that five years earlier, the pastor received a complaint from a mother alleging Norwood propositioned her 17–year–old son for sex. The pastor also repeated for police the “kidnapping” story told by Norwood's wife—this was included with the pastor's statements in the 1984 police activity sheet, which had been disclosed to the defense.

The court also found the Commonwealth failed to disclose handwritten notes by the trial prosecutor, purportedly recounting an instance of Norwood's behavior toward a teenage male, which would establish the prosecution's awareness of Norwood's homosexual proclivities. The court stated, had such evidence been disclosed to the defense, trial counsel would have been able to challenge the Commonwealth's sympathetic portrayal of Norwood. The court concluded the inability to portray an unsympathetic victim was enough to undermine one's confidence the jury would have returned the same verdict of death.7

Finding appellee exercised due diligence, the court concluded he did not know this evidence existed until his co-conspirator executed an affidavit in January, 2012, declaring a possible motive for the crime, i.e., rage over being sexually abused by Norwood. Appellee...

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23 practice notes
  • Commonwealth v. Reid, No. 752 CAP
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • August 18, 2020
    ...PCRA court's order, dismissed the PCRA petition, and reinstated Williams's sentence of death. See Commonwealth v. Williams , 629 Pa. 533, 105 A.3d 1234 (2014). Two weeks later, Chief Justice Castille retired from the bench.The United States Supreme Court subsequently granted Williams's peti......
  • Williams v. Pennsylvania, No. 15–5040.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 9, 2016
    ...written by Justice Eakin. Justices Saylor and Todd concurred in the result without issuing a separate opinion. See 629 Pa. 533, ––––, 105 A.3d 1234, 1245 (2014).Chief Justice Castille authored a concurrence. He lamented that the PCRA court had "lost sight of its role as a neutral judic......
  • Commonwealth v. Williams, Nos. 668 CAP, 669 CAP.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • August 22, 2017
    ...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 pro......
  • Commonwealth v. Spotz, No. 731 CAP
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • October 18, 2017
    ...considerations. Commonwealth v. Robinson , 635 Pa. 592, 139 A.3d 178, 185 (2016) (citing Commonwealth v. Williams , 629 Pa. 533, 105 A.3d 1234, 1239 (2014) ; Commonwealth v. Peterkin , 554 Pa. 547, 722 A.2d 638, 641 (1998) ). The statutory time bar "implicates the court's very power to......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
23 cases
  • Commonwealth v. Reid, No. 752 CAP
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • August 18, 2020
    ...PCRA court's order, dismissed the PCRA petition, and reinstated Williams's sentence of death. See Commonwealth v. Williams , 629 Pa. 533, 105 A.3d 1234 (2014). Two weeks later, Chief Justice Castille retired from the bench.The United States Supreme Court subsequently granted Williams's peti......
  • Williams v. Pennsylvania, No. 15–5040.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 9, 2016
    ...written by Justice Eakin. Justices Saylor and Todd concurred in the result without issuing a separate opinion. See 629 Pa. 533, ––––, 105 A.3d 1234, 1245 (2014).Chief Justice Castille authored a concurrence. He lamented that the PCRA court had "lost sight of its role as a neutral judic......
  • Commonwealth v. Williams, Nos. 668 CAP, 669 CAP.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • August 22, 2017
    ...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 pro......
  • Commonwealth v. Spotz, No. 731 CAP
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • October 18, 2017
    ...considerations. Commonwealth v. Robinson , 635 Pa. 592, 139 A.3d 178, 185 (2016) (citing Commonwealth v. Williams , 629 Pa. 533, 105 A.3d 1234, 1239 (2014) ; Commonwealth v. Peterkin , 554 Pa. 547, 722 A.2d 638, 641 (1998) ). The statutory time bar "implicates the court's very power to......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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