Juries convicted a Philadelphia man of two murders some 30 years ago, and he was scheduled to die by lethal injection on Wednesday.
But Gov. Tom Wolf has halted the use of the death penalty, calling the practice flawed. He plans to keep the moratorium in place until a previously-ordered study of capital punishment is complete. That is expected later this year.
Now, Philadelphia prosecutors are fighting to reinstate capital punishment to close out decades-long cases.
In 1984, Terry Williams, then a college freshman, killed two men within five months. He was convicted of murder in both cases.
Since then, Williams has been on death row as his attorneys have successfully delayed his execution. They’ve argued that the victims, two older men, sexually abused Williams. And so, both murders were tantamount to an “enraged killing,” defense lawyers have argued.
In 2012, the state’s Board of Pardons rejected Williams’ petition for clemency, which sought to clear the death sentence in exchange for life in prison without parole.
With Wolf’s recent moratorium, Williams’ lethal injection date has been extended yet again.
In turn, the city district attorney’s office is taking the Wolf administration to Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court under the argument that the governor overstepped his authority.
“We often see in movies at the last few hours the governor will pick up the red phone and he will call the execution room and stay the execution. In Pennsylvania, the governor does not have those powers,” district attorney spokesman Cameron Kline said.
Pennsylvania’s high court will dig into the issue in the coming months.
As a legal challenge to the governor’s death penalty moratorium advances, lawmakers are promising to revisit Pennsylvania’s capital sentencing system.
State Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery, wants the governor to reverse his stance.
“If they don’t want it, put a statute up, put a proposal up, and let’s vote it. And then the majority of the House and Senate can send the bill to the governor, but I don’t see that happening,” Vereb said Wednesday. “I mean, the option always is, to correct a law, isn’t to park it, but to rewrite another proposal and get it sent through the General Assembly.
A state House committee plans to hold hearings on the state’s death penalty at the end of the month.
Wolf said he’s concerned about the expense and flaws of the state’s capital sentencing system, and wants to halt executions until a state panel finishes studying it.
The last time a Pennsylvania prisoner was put to death was in 1999, when Philadelphia “House of Horrors” killer Gary Heidnik was executed by lethal injection.
WHYY’s Mary Wilson contributed to this report.