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US/Pennsylvania: Commute Terrance Williams' Death Sentence

Letter to Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley and the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons

The Honorable Jim Cawley
Lieutenant Governor
Chairman, Pennsylvania Board of Pardons
333 Market Street, 15th Floor
Harrisburg, PA 17126

Re: Support for commutation of sentence of Terrance Williams

Dear Lieutenant Governor Cawley:

We write to urge you to commute the death sentence of Terrance Williams.

The cornerstone of human rights is respect for the inherent dignity of all human beings and the inviolability of the human person. Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all countries and in all circumstances because thedeath penalty is inconsistent with theinherent dignity of the person.

Those responsible for serious crimes should be fairly and appropriately held accountable, and the victims of crimes and their families should have access to justice and redress. But it is increasingly recognized around the world that the death penalty is not a just sentence, as it is inevitably plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error.

In addition, there are compelling arguments for clemency in Williams’ case. As a child, Williams was the victim of horrific physical and sexual abuse. Moreover, at the time of his crime, he was barely 18 years old—the minimum age for someone to receive the death penalty in the United States. As the Supreme Court has recognized in multiple decisions, there are critical differences between juveniles and adults in terms of maturity, impulsiveness, risk-taking, and vulnerability to outside influences, and therefore the level of culpability for their actions. When it comes to matters of crime and punishment, decision-makers should take into account the age of the offender. While Williams was technically an adult, his relative youth and history of abuse are certainly powerful mitigating factors that should be considered in sentencing.

Human Rights Watch would also like to express grave concern over Pennsylvania’s practice of not informing juries that the alternative to the death sentence is a life without parole sentence. Pennsylvania continues to be the only state in the nation to withhold this information from juries. Juries should not be required to make life or death decisions on the basis of incomplete information, as it appears may have happened in Williams’ case.

For these reasons, we strongly urge you commute the sentence of Terrance Williams.


Antonio Ginatta
Advocacy Director, US Program
Human Rights Watch


cc: Members of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons:

The Honorable Linda L. Kelly, Attorney General
The Honorable Louise B. Williams
The Honorable Russell A. Walsh, Ph.D.
The Honorable Harris Gubernick


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