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Unprecedented support

The roll of supporters continues growing in the case for clemency for condemned killer Terry Williams.

For a reporter, it wasn't hard to choose which of the 160-plus people to focus on who signed in support of Thursday's petition seeking clemency for condemned killer Terrance "Terry" Williams.

Williams, 46, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Oct. 3.

After all, how many times do you see a compelling plea for the life of a killer by the widow of the man he brutally beat to death and then set the corpse on fire?

"I do not wish to see Terry Williams executed," wrote 75-year-old Mamie Norwood, whose husband Amos Norwood was murdered June 11, 1984 at age 56. "His execution would go against my Christian faith and my belief system. He is worthy of forgiveness and I am at peace with my decision to forgive him and have been for many years. I wish to see his life spared."

The growing list of other supporters contains more than a few names that should be familiar to Gov. Corbett and the state Board of Pardons. It also includes some with more than a passing acquaintance with the issue of child sexual abuse and the lasting, lifelong damage it does to victims.

Take, for example, the petition signed by 18 former prosecutors. Among them is Philadelphia lawyer Jeffrey M. Lindy, a former federal prosecutor probably more familiar as a member of the defense team that represented Msgr. William J. Lynn in this year's Philadelphia Common Pleas Court trial involving the sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Also supporting the petition is Archbishop Charles Chaput, leader of the Philadelphia archdiocese.

The seven retired judges include Timothy K. Lewis, formerly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and the U.S. District Court in Western Pennsylvania. Lewis may be more familiar as one of the lawyers representing former Penn State president Graham Spanier, fired as a result of child sex-abuse scandal involving assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

Twenty-seven child advocates signed the clemency petition including Wendy Aguirre, executive director of the Court Appointed Special Advocates of Philadelphia County; Steven J. Berkowitz, associate professor of clinical psychiatry and director of the University of Pennsylvania's Penn Center for Youth and Family Trauma Response and Recovery; and Marsha Levick, deputy director and chief counsel of the Juvenile Law Center of Philadelphia. So too did 43 mental health professionals and 35 law professors from every one of the region's law schools.

All say they support the clemency petition because the Philadelphia jury that condemned the 18-year-old Williams in 1986 never heard of Williams' horrific childhood history of sexual abuse by a neighbor, a teacher and – Amos Norwood.

The main theme of the clemency petition – supported by affidavits from five members of the original jury – is that Williams would have never been sentenced to death had the jury heard the mitigating evidence of the sexual abuse and the psychological impact it had in producing the rage behind Norwood's murder.

Williams' lawyers go Monday before Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina with an emergency petition to stay the execution, although they acknowledge that Williams has exhausted his state and federal appeals.

If Sarmina denies the stay, Williams' next stop is the state Board of Pardons, which has set Sept. 17 for a hearing on the request to commute his sentence to life in prison without parole.

The five-member board must be unanimous in recommending clemency to Gov. Corbett. A recommendation, if it is made, is not binding on the governor, who signed Williams' death warrant on Aug. 9.