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Andrea Lyon Headshot

Dying to Win

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On September 28, 2012 Judge Sarmina granted a stay of execution for Terry William in Pennsylvania. In doing so she found that the prosecution had known that the man Williams was sentenced to death for killing had been sexually abusing him. In fact the deceased had a provable history of taking advantage of his position of trust in the church to take advantage of vulnerable teens.

There was no question in the Judge's mind that the prosecution deliberately hid the evidence to support this claim, and that it would have likely changed the result of the sentencing hearing. "Petitioner demonstrated that the government sanitized the statements of two witnesses, Mamie Norwood and Reverend Charles Poindexter, removing information that either directly or indirectly demonstrated that the victim was a homosexual ephebophiliac. For those who do not know, an ephebophile is an adult who has a sexual attraction to teens."

The stay of execution was appealed on an emergency basis to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. They denied the request which would have resulted in William's execution.

Mr. Williams has a lot of support for his request for a life rather than a death sentence. The widow of the deceased and many of the original jurors are supportive according to the website about Mr. William's case.

It is interesting to read the judge's decision in this case. She would not allow anyone to prepare the witnesses -- she wanted to hear everything unfiltered. And she concluded that the prosecutor who tried the case, Ms. Foulkes, had information that proved that the deceased had a pattern of preying on young men, including specific instances. She found that "The sanitization of the statements turned over to defense counsel, and the non-disclosure of the substance of Ms. Foulkes' handwritten notes demonstrates that evidence has plainly been suppressed." The Judge also found that Ms. Foulkes was not telling the truth when she testified at the hearing that it didn't matter to her what the verdict was. "Ms. Foulkes indicated or maintained to this Court that she did not care if she got less than First Degree Murder... and that she didn't care if she got death... This Court did not find this testimony to be credible. Instead, the Court is constrained to say that she did, at times, play games and took unfair measures to win."

In other words, even though the prosecutor knew she wasn't telling the truth when she maintained there was no motivation other than cold-bloodedness for the killing, she did it anyway. Even though she knew the deceased had abused the defendant and others, she hid it.

She cheated to win. This phenomenon of prosecutorial misconduct has been decried quite a bit recently, including by me.

As another adult in Pennsylvania (Jerry Sandusky) who took advantage of vulnerable young men, who abused his power, has just been sentenced to what amounts to the rest of his life in prison, it should cause us all to reflect about what exactly winning is.

Perhaps the prosecution in this case should think about this question, and perhaps agree, that cheating to "win" a death sentence is wrong, and that a life sentence for this man is justice.