Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Does this guy deserve clemency?

How many people think the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for someone who sexually abuses children? Read any story about a man accused of molesting a 6 year-old and you'll see comment after comment calling for all manner of horrific ends for that man. To some people, no form of torturous death is too cruel. And they'd line up to administer the punishment themselves. Or throw a parade for the person who did.

Unless that person happens to be an 18 year-old black man in Philly. Who was once the 6 year-old victim. Who grew up in chaos, with adults everywhere continuing to abuse him. When that guy beats his abuser to death, he gets the death penalty.

Terrance Williams was convicted of murdering Amos Norwood in 1984. At trial, the prosecution alleged the motive was robbery and persuaded a jury to sentence Williams to death. The prosecution made sure the jury never heard any of the sexual abuse history of Williams. Or of Norwood's part in that abuse.

Williams is now scheduled to be executed on October 3. His lawyers took his case to the Pennsylvania State Board of Pardons this week, seeking clemency. They hoped that hearing about the history of sexual abuse and hearing from 5 jurors who now say they wouldn't have voted for death had they known about Williams' history would persuade the board. But the board vote had to be unanimous and not all 5 members agreed. So Terrance Williams will probably die in two weeks.

I confess. I find this one hard to figure out. I get that Terrance Williams shouldn't get a free pass on murder. I am obviously not in the camp of folks who thinks summary execution is justified for child molesters. But I don't understand the lack of sympathy for Williams. Abused since he was 6. Finally big enough to fight back. Clearly, no one else in his life had fought back on his behalf. It makes me sick to think that a kid like this never had any chance at a decent, normal life, never had role models or security or love, but then the second he becomes a legal adult, we'll sentence him to death because he somehow should have learned better life skills on his own.

While we can't condone the method he came up with for fighting back and standing up for himself, maybe we oughta not kill the guy for it.

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