Commonwealth v. Williams, J-97A-2016

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtJUSTICE MUNDY
Decision Date22 August 2017
Docket NumberJ-97B-2016,No. 669 CAP,No. 668 CAP,J-97A-2016



No. 668 CAP
No. 669 CAP


SUBMITTED: August 25, 2016
August 22, 2017


Appeal from the Order entered on 09/28/2012 in the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division of Philadelphia County at No. CP-51-CR-0823621-1984, granting a Stay of Execution

Appeal from the Order entered on 09/28/2012 in the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division of Philadelphia County at No. CP-51-CR-0823621-1984



Because I believe Williams has not met the governmental interference exception to the PCRA time-bar, I would vacate the PCRA court's order granting Williams a new penalty phase hearing, and would reinstate Williams' sentence of death.

On June 11, 1984, Williams and Marc Draper, both 18 years old at the time, murdered Amos Norwood. The facts presented at trial were summarized by this Court

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in Williams' direct appeal. See Commonwealth v. Williams, 570 A.2d 75, 77-79 (Pa. 1990). Briefly, I recount the following pertinent facts from our previous opinion.

Early in the day on June 11, 1984, Williams and Draper were gambling when they ran out of money. Williams devised a plan to travel to Norwood's house to extort money from him. Williams spent 15-20 minutes inside Norwood's home while Draper waited nearby. Williams returned with ten dollars, crossing paths with Norwood's wife, Mamie Norwood, while exiting the house. Williams and Draper left Norwood's house and returned to a gambling game they had been participating in prior to traveling to Norwood's home.

Two or three hours later, Norwood was on his way to church when he passed through an intersection where Williams and Draper were standing. Williams flagged down Norwood, and got into Norwood's car and drove away with him. A few minutes later, the car returned to the intersection and picked up Draper. Before getting into the car, Williams alerted Draper of his plan to give Norwood false directions so they could rob him.

Williams rode in the passenger seat, Draper in the rear seat behind the driver. The pair gave Norwood false directions which led him to a dark secluded area near a cemetery. Draper grabbed Norwood from behind, and Williams ordered him out of the car. Norwood was led into the cemetery and forced to lie face down while Williams and Draper searched him, finding twenty dollars in his sock. While Norwood begged for his life, Williams and Draper tied his hands behind his back with his shirt, tied his legs together with his pants, and stuffed his socks into his mouth. Draper stayed with Norwood while Williams returned to Norwood's car. At that point, Draper had a foot on Norwood's back and was taunting him about liking boys. N.T., 1/22/86, at 813.

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Williams retrieved a socket wrench and a tire iron from Norwood's car, and began repeatedly hitting Norwood in the back of the head with the tire iron. At Williams' prompting, Draper voluntarily began to strike Norwood in the head with the socket wrench. Williams and Draper continued the attack until they believed Norwood was dead. The pair then hid the body behind two tombstones, covering it with loose brush. Williams and Draper disposed of the contents of Norwood's glove compartment in a trash can, and left with Norwood's car. That night, Williams returned to the cemetery, soaked Norwood's body in gasoline, and set it on fire.

The next morning, Williams picked up Draper in Norwood's car and they returned to the cemetery to examine the contents of the glove compartment they had thrown in the trash can. In Norwood's wallet they found a Mastercard and an AT&T telephone card, both in Norwood's name. The pair then picked up Ronald Rucker, and the trio headed to Atlantic City, in Norwood's car. The Mastercard and AT&T card were used in Atlantic City.

Norwood's charred remains were found by a passerby on June 15, 1984. Draper was arrested on July 20, 1984, and after learning of his arrest warrant, Williams turned himself in on July 23, 1984.

Williams testified at trial and denied any participation in the murder of Norwood, or that he knew Norwood. Williams testified to being present in the car when Draper and an individual named Mike Hopkins1 attacked Norwood. N.T., 1/27/86, at 1181-82. He testified that he got out of the vehicle and walked away when the attack started. Id. at 1183. Williams testified he met up with Draper later in the night and Draper told him they had just robbed Norwood and stolen his car. Id. at 1186.

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On February 3, 1986, a jury convicted Williams of first-degree murder, criminal conspiracy, and robbery.2 The penalty phase hearing commenced the same day, and the jury found two aggravating factors: (1) Williams committed the murder while perpetrating a felony, and (2) Williams had a significant history of felony convictions involving the use or threat of violence to the person.3 The jury considered mitigating evidence but found no mitigating circumstances. On February 4, 1986, the jury returned a sentence of death, and on July 1, 1987, Williams was formally sentenced to death. On February 8, 1990, this Court affirmed Williams' sentence of death. Williams, 570 A.2d at 75. Williams did not seek certiorari.

Williams filed his first, timely, PCRA petition on March 24, 1995. A hearing was held on April 7-9, 13, 16-17, 1998. Williams abandoned his earlier claim that he did not know Norwood prior to the date of the murder, and presented several witnesses who testified to a homosexual relationship between Norwood and Williams. On October 20, 1998, the PCRA court denied Williams' PCRA petition. This Court affirmed. Commonwealth v. Williams, 863 A.2d 505 (Pa. 2004).

Williams filed two more PCRA petitions, which were dismissed by the PCRA court as untimely on February 18, 2005, and June 1, 2005, respectively. Those orders

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were each affirmed by this Court on appeal. Commonwealth v. Williams, 909 A.2d 297 (Pa. 2006) (per curiam); Commonwealth v. Williams, 962 A.2d 609 (Pa. 2009) (per curiam).

While Williams' third PCRA petition was pending, he filed a federal habeas corpus petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, which was denied by the District Court on December 19, 2005. The Third Circuit affirmed, and the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari.4 Williams v. Beard, 637 F.3d 195, 238 (3d Cir. 2011), cert. denied Williams v. Wetzel, 133 S. Ct. 65 (2012). In its opinion, the Third Circuit reviewed Williams' ineffective assistance of counsel claim and agreed with this Court's conclusion that counsel's failure to present evidence of Williams' psychological issues and years of sexual abuse did not prejudice Williams. Id. at 234. It noted the mitigation evidence elicited on collateral review was sympathetic and portrayed "a much more complicated and troubled individual than the one depicted during the trial's penalty phase." Id. Nevertheless, the Third Circuit concluded this Court applied the Strickland test correctly, and a finding of prejudice was not warranted based on Williams' significant history of violent felony convictions, that this was not his first murder, and the brutal facts of Norwood's murder. Id. at 236-37.

On March 9, 2012, Williams filed his fourth, untimely, PCRA petition. The circumstances leading to Williams' fourth petition arose on January 9, 2012, when the Federal Community Defenders Office (FCDO) visited Draper at SCI-Frackville, where he was serving a life sentence for his role in the murder of Norwood.5 Draper signed an

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affidavit that day stating he told prosecutors on at least one occasion that Norwood was a homosexual and in a relationship with Williams. Aff. of Draper, 1/9/12, at 4. Draper claimed the prosecution did not want to hear that, and they wanted him to testify that the motive was robbery. Id. Draper signed a second affidavit on March 1, 2012, stating that on the night of Norwood's murder, Williams "snapped." Aff. of Draper, 3/1/12, at 7. Nothing in the second affidavit referenced a homosexual relationship between Williams and Norwood. Following the second affidavit, the FCDO filed the aforementioned fourth PCRA petition on March 9, 2012, on Williams' behalf. Therein, Williams asserted, inter alia, counsel was ineffective at the penalty phase for failing to put forth evidence to mitigate the Commonwealth's assertion that Williams grew up in a stable loving family,6 that the Commonwealth suppressed evidence of promises made to witnesses to induce cooperation, and that his sentence of death must be vacated because his prior conviction is also invalid based on the promises made to Draper. PCRA Pet., 3/9/12, at 23, 32, 39 and 46.

On September 6, 2012, Williams filed a Motion for Discovery requesting the Commonwealth produce police homicide files and activity sheets from the Herbert Hamilton and Amos Norwood murders, as well as any reports or notes made concerning Draper, Reverend Poindexter, or Norwood's sexual relationship with Williams or any child under the age of 18. Mot. for Discovery, 9/6/12, at 5-6. On September 10, 2012, the PCRA court heard arguments on the pleadings to determine if Williams' PCRA petition warranted an evidentiary hearing. The PCRA court permitted Williams the opportunity to obtain any additional information from Draper by September

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13, 2012. Draper signed a third affidavit on September 11, 2012, stating the prosecutors and detectives he met with for trial preparation did not want him to testify about Williams' homosexual relationship with Norwood. Aff. of Draper, 9/11/12, at 7. He stated, "I specifically remember Detectives telling me that information I gave them was not credible. They did not want me to say the case involved a relationship. They wanted me to say it was only a robbery." Id. The PCRA court concluded...

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