PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The state's high court on Wednesday halted Pennsylvania's first scheduled execution in more than a decade, at least temporarily sparing the life of a man who says the two men he killed had molested him.
With hours remaining until Terrance "Terry" Williams' death warrant expired, the state Supreme Court denied a last-minute appeal by Philadelphia prosecutors to overturn a lower court ruling and proceed with the execution.
The 46-year-old Williams, of Philadelphia, killed two men in his teens.
A state judge found late last week that prosecutors withheld evidence from Williams' capital murder trial in 1986, including evidence the victim in that case was molesting teen boys. Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina tossed out Williams' death sentence on Friday but upheld his first-degree murder conviction.
But Philadelphia's district attorney appealed her ruling and wanted Williams executed before the death warrant expired at midnight Wednesday.
Williams has been on death row for nearly three decades. He would have been the first person executed in Pennsylvania in 50 years who had not given up his appeals.
Williams' lawyers spoke with him by phone Wednesday afternoon from outside the prison at Greene County, where he's on death row. He was never moved to the Centre County facility where he would have been executed.
"He was very relieved," said defense lawyer Shawn Nolan, one of several federal public defenders representing him. "Today was a very scary day for Terry because the stay could have been lifted, and he could have been taken to Rockview and executed."
The lawyers argued that prosecutors had appealed only the stay of execution and not Sarmina's decision to throw out the death sentence. If the state had executed Williams, it would have done so without a valid death sentence, they said in papers filed Wednesday morning.
District Attorney Seth Williams, no relation to the defendant, insists Terry Williams is the rare defendant deserving of the death penalty, and prosecutors complained in court papers Wednesday that his appeals have tied up the court system long enough.