"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Monday, November 30, 2015

When a Kid Kills His Longtime Abuser, Who's the Victim?

Terry Williams
Terry Williams
The perplexing double standards of death penalty politics.

You could hardly open a Pennsylvania newspaper in 2012 without running into a story about the prosecution of sexual predators or their enablers. The case of Jerry Sandusky, the Penn State football coach convicted of abusing 10 boys, was all over the headlines. Two Philadelphia grand juries, in 2003 and 2011, had documented a massive cover-up of sexual abuse by the Catholic Church that would end up with two priests and a monsignor going to prison—the latter was the first senior church official in the United States convicted of endangering children by covering up abuses by priests under his supervision.

In July 2012, after yet another priest was arrested, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams lauded the alleged victim for speaking out after years of silence: "As we have learned," Williams said, "it is extremely difficult for sexual abuse victims to admit that the assault happened, and then to actually report the abuse to authorities can be even harder for them."

The grand juries had made similar points. The most recent version of Pennsylvania's statutes of limitation, noted the 2003 grand jury report, required prosecutors to initiate sexual-abuse cases by the child victim's 30th birthday, but "the experts have told us that this statute is still too short. We ourselves have seen that many victims do not come forward until deep into their thirties, forties and even later."

The 2011 grand jury was even more forceful, noting that most victims don't come forward "for many years, or even decades." Seven of Sandusky's victims took a combined 73 years to report their ordeals. The Pennsylvania legislature responded by passing a law allowing the use of experts at trial to help juries understand how sexual violence affects its victims, and how they typically behave.

But these sex abuse scandals weren't the only legal dramas capturing the public's attention that year. In September 2012, a man named Terry Williams was in the final throes of an effort to survive a death sentence imposed on him for a crime he'd committed a few months after his 18th birthday. The Philadelphia DA's office was working overtime to ensure the commonwealth's first involuntary execution in half a century. But there was something about the DA's enthusiasm that seemed out of place: Terry Williams had been convicted, in separate trials, of murdering two much older men who had sexually abused him as a minor.

In the first case, a jury convicted Williams of third degree murder after it was made aware of the victim's sexual relationship with his killer. In the second, the jurors never heard evidence of the victim's proclivity for sleeping with teenage boys. They convicted Williams of first-degree murder and sentenced him to die.

After reading a summary of the crime provided by the DA's office, some might conclude that Williams was nothing but a violent psychopath who got what he deserved.

But this account leaves out some salient facts. Namely, that both men were having sex with Williams, and that Norwood had been doing so since Williams was just 13. The robberies the DA describes followed years of sexual victimization, as the Third Circuit Court of Appeals summarized in 2011.

Source: Mother Jones, Mark Bookman, November 30, 2015

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