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Terrance Williams, murderer, in the New York Times

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Something you didn't read in the New York Times this weekend, as it lobbies for clemency for convicted murderer Terrance Williams:

Williams retrieved a nearby baseball bat, chased after [Herbert] Hamilton, and beat him with the bat until Hamilton was bloody and severely wounded. Williams then recovered the butcher knife and stabbed Hamilton approximately twenty times--twice in the head, ten times in the back, once in the neck, four times in the chest, and once each in the abdomen, arm, and thumb. Finally, Williams drove the butcher knife through the back of Hamilton's neck until it protruded through the other side. He then doused Hamilton's body with kerosene and unsuccessfully attempted to set fire to it.

Williams v. Beard, 637 F.3d 195, 199 (3d Cir. 2011). But Williams was only 17 when this murder happened (and 16 when he fired a shotgun three times during a home invasion and robbery of an elderly couple); this isn't why he got the death penalty. This is:

Williams exited the vehicle, approached Draper, and said quietly, "Play it off like you going home, like you want a ride home, and we gonna take some money." Draper understood Williams to be proposing a robbery. The two then got inside Norwood's automobile and Draper began to provide false directions to his "home." In reality, Draper's directions led Norwood to a secluded area adjacent to the Ivy Hill Cemetery. Once there, Draper reached over the backseat, grabbed Norwood from behind and ordered him "to be quiet and get out of the car." Norwood stopped the vehicle and complied.

Williams and Draper then led Norwood into the cemetery and ordered him to lie facedown near a tombstone. A quick search of Norwood's person revealed $20 hidden in his sock. At this point, Norwood began to plead for his life. The two assailants responded by removing Norwood's clothing and tying him up; Norwood's hands were bound behind his back with his shirt, his legs were bound together with his pants, and his socks were forcefully jammed into his mouth. Once Norwood was bound, Williams said to Draper, "Wait, I'm going to the car. We're getting ready to do something." And he walked off.

Williams returned with a tire iron and a socket wrench, the latter of which he gave to Draper. Draper, seemingly having second thoughts, urged Williams to leave. Williams replied, "I know what I'm doin, I know what I'm doin. Don't worry about it, I know what I'm doin." He then began battering Norwood's head with the tire iron. When he noticed that Draper was frozen in place, Williams said, "Man, you with me[?] We got to do this together." Draper then sprung into action himself, striking Norwood repeatedly with the socket wrench. This violent scene continued until Norwood lay motionless and dead.

Id. at 200-01. Over a decade after his death penalty sentence, lawyers for Williams have propounded a theory that Williams's multiple murders were a result of a long series of sexual abuse incidents (notwithstanding Williams's statement that he had a happy childhood), and the Times promotes it at length without much attempt to balance the story—it's not until the penultimate paragraph that we learn in passing that multiple courts have already rejected these new theories, and we never hear the substantial counterevidence for the proposition that the abuse was not a motive for the murders or for the proposition that Williams was really abused. But as Kyle Graham notes, "I think it's cute that you still seem to think that the New York Times can be shamed back into inverted pyramid format." Yes, shameless is the right word.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.