A “Sexual Relationship”?

We don’t know whether this falls under the category of incurably obtuse, transcendently sad, or both.

We recently came across the case of Williams v. Pennsylvania that got taken up and decided by the SCOTUS in 2016.  The issue in the case is when due process requires the recusal of a judge.  The issue for LoS this morning is the factual background, and maybe the distortion of our courts and their reasoning by anti-death penalty activists.

Then 18 year old Terrance Williams was convicted of murdering a then 56 year old man named Amos Norwood a very long time ago, in 1984.  He had an accomplice named Marc Draper.  The story was that Norwood had offered the two young men a ride, but they diverted to a cemetery and Norwood was beaten to death with a tire iron.

In a familiar turn of events Draper cut a deal, Williams did not, and Williams was convicted at trial and sentenced to death.

There were two “aggravating factors” leading to the death penalty.  One was that the murder of Norwood occurred during the course of a robbery.  We don’t know why that should be an “aggravating factor”, since robbery is a less serious crime than murder, but never mind.  The second aggravating factor was that Williams had committed another murder when he was 17 and otherwise had a violent history.

The robbery story was testified to by Draper.  But many years later he recanted and said that the real reason for killing Norwood was that Norwood liked young boys, as they say, and that Williams had been one of those boys.  That part doesn’t seem to be disputed.  Nor is it disputed, apparently, that the prosecutor who secured Williams’ conviction and death penalty knew that the robbery story was false and instructed Draper to testify to it so she could get the robbery-as-aggravating-factor thing going.


So what gets all this to the SCOTUS is that based on Draper’s recantation, among other things, the Pennsylvania trial court vacated the now very old death sentence in a post-conviction proceeding begun in 2012, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated the vacation and reinstated the death sentence.  One of the judges on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court who voted for this – Hon. Ronald Castille – had been the elected District Attorney in Philadelphia at the time or Williams’ conviction and had signed off on seeking the death penalty.

But we’re not so much interested in that.  We’re more interested in this:  the SCOTUS repeatedly refers to the new information from Draper as revealing that there was a “sexual relationship” between Williams and Norwood (the victim).

Really, SCOTUS?  After all the molestation and pedophilia scandals of the past 20 years and the #MeToo movement and God knows what else, how is it possible for people who supposedly have a clue to characterize what Draper was now describing that way?

For his part, Ronald Castille – the former Philadelphia DA, now judge sitting on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court – authored a concurring opinion in which he seemed to be most concerned that the 2012 post-conviction proceeding was the product of anti-death penalty activist attorneys who can’t be trusted.

Maybe that’s true.  Maybe they can’t be trusted.  But see here.  The story hangs together a lot better with Draper’s recantation.  The 56 year old Norwood just happened to give the young Draper and Williams – who were not related to him – a ride out of kindness?  This is what the District Attorney argued to the jury back in 1984, but it’s not likely.  More likely he was a creep, and Williams’ defense could have argued that Norwood got what was coming to him.  Or at least something along those lines, because we don’t go for killing around here at LoS, even of child molesting creeps.

Another tidbit capturing our interest.  Williams had taken the witness stand at his trial and claimed – quite improbably, we are sure – not to have had any involvement in the killing of Norwood at all.  Never said anything about Norwood having molested him.

With his life on the line, isn’t it impossible for Williams not to have brought that up?

No.  Not at all.  In fact it’s typical.  In fact we know that now.  We know that molestation victims don’t talk about what happened to them, and often deny it, for years.  Maybe forever, taking the truth to their graves.  In New York the legislature just abolished the statute of limitations for victims seeking compensation for such things and out they have come, by the hundreds, often older people claiming molestation 50 years or more ago.

That aside, we’re not sure that 50 year old molestation claims by a plaintiff or complaining witness should be heard.  There’s a problem with an accused being able to defend himself.

But of course that was not the issue in Williams’ case.  No one was looking to punish a perpetrator of sexual abuse.  The issue was whether a victim of sexual abuse should be given the death penalty for murdering his abuser.  While not to the point of certainty, the record supports the idea that this is what occurred plainly enough that Williams’ death sentence should have been set aside many years ago.

Just parenthetically, though, it’s worth noting how former-District-Attorney-now Pennsylvania-Supreme-Court-Judge Castille in fact ruled, assuming the truth of all that:

According to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Williams failed to make the threshold showing necessary to overcome the time bar because there was “abundant evidence” that Williams “knew of Norwood’s homosexuality and conduct with teenage boys well before trial, sufficient to present [Norwood] as unsympathetic before the jury.” ___ Pa., at ___, 105 A.3d, at 1241. The court pointed out that Williams was, of course, personally aware of Norwood’s abuse and could have raised the issue at trial, but instead chose to disclaim having ever met Norwood. The court also noted that Williams had raised similar claims of abuse in his first state habeas proceeding. Ibid. Chief Justice Castille concurred separately, criticizing the lower court for failing to dismiss Williams’s petition as “timebarred and frivolous.” Id., at ___, 105 A.3d, at 1245.

Seems like there was an argument that it was time-barred.  But “frivolous”?

And assuming the truth of it all, we’re going to kill him, Judge Castille?

The Williams case is Exhibit AA in the case for barring prosecutors from ever taking the bench.  Ugh.

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Filed under epistemology, wrongful convictions

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