Philadelphia Judge Stays Execution, D-A Vows Appeal

A Philadelphia judge has halted Wednesday’s scheduled execution of death row inmate Terrance Williams and granted him a new sentencing hearing.  But prosecutors vow to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The judge not only granted a stay of execution, she vacated the death sentence, which grants Williams a new penalty phase.  In the ruling, Judge M. Teresa Sarmina was critical of the way the prosecution handled the original trial in the 1984 murder that put Williams on death row.   The prosecution has denied any wrongdoing.

Williams still has a request for clemency pending before the state Pardons Board.  The board voted after a hearing on Thursday to take the request under advisement.




State Capitol Fountain

Honoring Pennsylvania through Poetry

The Keystone State is rich with both poets and inspiration.  “When you look at the landscape and the beauty of the state, you begin to realize how diverse she is,” explains former Perry County Poet Laureate Melanie Simms.  “We’ve got mountains, we’ve got rivers.  Aesthetically, it draws the artist’s eye.”  For Simms though, it’s Pennsylvania’s history that she finds most intriguing.

Simms is eager to honor Pennsylvania through poetry at an upcoming capitol event, which she hopes can bring a sense of unity and pride.  “We can do that reminding each other of our great heritage, and doing that through poetry.  I mean we’re going through some divisive times right now.” 

Simms’ poem titled “Sunbury” is just one of the works to be shared:SUNBURY

Organizers hope the event will inspire others to try their hand at poetry as well.  Bloomsburg University English professor Jerry Wemple has been helping students find their inner-poets for years, and he tells Radio PA that poetry is more accessible than many people think.  “Sometimes people are turned away because they’re looking for a secret meaning, but a lot of times it’s just right there.  It’s not a puzzle to unlock, it’s something to enjoy.” 

You can enjoy Pennsylvania-themed poetry on October 11th, in the State Capitol East Wing Rotunda, from 12 – 1:30pm.  The event is free and open to the public.

RadioPA Roundtable

Radio PA Roundtable 09.28.12

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Brad Christman and Matt Paul update you on the stay of execution issued Friday for convicted killer Terrance Williams, who was scheduled to die by lethal injection at Rockview State Prison on Wednesday of the coming week. Former Radio PA Roundtable host Robert Lang (now of WBAL radio in Baltimore) joins the discussion and provides insight as a media witness to three executions in his career.

Radio PA Roundtable is a 30-minute program featuring in-depth reporting on the top news stories of the week.

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:


No Immediate Decision from Pardons Board

Pennsylvania’s five-member Board of Pardons voted 4 – 1 this morning to hear new arguments in the clemency application of a condemned killer from Philadelphia.  The hearing has concluded and the case has been taken under advisement. 

The board’s recommendation must be unanimous in order for the governor to be able to commute Terrance Williams’ sentence to life in prison without parole.  “With regard to a pardon or commutation, the governor at this point in time has no authority,” says Executive Deputy General Counsel Linda Hoffa. 

The board previously voted 3 – 2 for clemency last week.   

The only unilateral authority the governor has is to issue a temporary reprieve, but Hoffa says case law calls for it to be tied to a pending proceeding.  “It should not be open-ended and vague,” Hoffa explained to reporters on Wednesday.    

46-year-old Terrance “Terry” Williams was convicted in the beating death of Amos Norwood in 1986, the death penalty was imposed in 1987, and his appeals have been exhausted. 

However, Williams’ attorneys are now arguing that their client had been sexually abused by the man he murdered.  A Philadelphia judge has been hearing the new evidence, and is scheduled to rule on a stay of execution tomorrow. 

For now, Williams is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at State Correctional Institution at Rockview on October 3rd. If it is carried out it would be the state’s first execution since 1999, and the first execution involving a prisoner who had not given up his right to appeal since 1962.    

As major decisions loom in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, Williams remains locked up on the other end of the state, at SCI Greene.

Williams Execution Scheduled for Wednesday

Pennsylvania may issue its first lethal injection in 13 years next week. Condemned killer Terrance Williams is scheduled to be executed at Rockview State Prison in Centre County at 7:00pm on October 3rd. Williams was convicted for two murders in the 1980s and has exhausted most of his appeals.

A stay or temporary reprieve is still possible before Wednesday’s scheduled execution, either from the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, which is meeting today, or from a Philadelphia judge who is currently considering new information in the case and could issue a stay on Friday.

Pennsylvania has not executed a death row inmate since “House of Horrors” killer Gary Heidnik was put to death in 1999. He is one of only three inmates to receive a lethal injection since the death penalty was reinstated in Pennsylvania in 1978. Leon Moser and Keith Zettlemoyer were also put to death in PA in 1995, but all three had waived their rights to certain appeals. Williams would be the first person executed against his will since the reinstatement 34 years ago.


Faculty Offers Binding Arbitration as Talks with State System Continue

The two sides have been talking for over two years and now the faculty union at the 14 state owned universities has made a new offer.  The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties is offering binding arbitration to the State System of Higher Education and asking for an answer by October 15th.

State system spokesman Ken Marshall says they’re reviewing the offer.  But he adds they’ve been able to achieve agreements with five of their other labor unions at the bargaining table.  He says they’re hoping they can do the same with APSCUF. Additional negotiating sessions are scheduled to cover remaining issues. Talks had resumed after the union requested a pause in negotiations last month.

But APSCUF Vice President Ken Mash, a professor at East Stroudsburg University, says the concessions the state system is seeking from faculty members go well beyond those they asked of other unions.  He says they’ve been working without a contract for fourteen months and what they’re looking for is fairness.

Mash says in order to do what’s best for the students, their families and the Commonwealth; they think it would be best to get past the hurdles they’re facing by perhaps turning to a neutral arbitrator.

Mash says the state system is looking for a lot of give backs in health care and their retiree health care and wants to increase work load for part of their bargaining unit.  He says members work side by side with AFSCME employees, and they got very modest increases and very modest concessions.  He says that’s the kind of deal they think is essentially fair during these difficult times.

Rendell: No Plans to Seek Public Office Again

Since he left office in January 2011, former Governor Ed Rendell sightings have been rare around the state capitol.  That’s by design, as Rendell says he vowed “to be an ex-Governor” and refrain from criticizing the new administration.  But Rendell opened up in a wide-ranging speech at a Pennsylvania Press Club forum, Monday, in Harrisburg.  After breaking down the presidential race, Rendell fielded questions on everything from education to the Eagles.  Perhaps his most entertaining comments came in response to a question about his interest in running for public office again: EdRendell-Office

Rendell has been keeping busy since leaving office: publishing a new book called A Nation of Wusses, writing a sports column in the Philadelphia Daily News, and serving as co-chair of the Campaign to Fix the Debt.  Nonetheless, Rendell says he does miss public service. 

Former Gov. Ed Rendell

State Taking More Steps to Ease Voter ID Card Process

As Commonwealth Court takes another look at the Voter ID law, directed by the state Supreme Court to review availability, officials have announced a new step to streamline the process of getting an ID before Election Day.  They say it should only require one trip to a PennDOT licensing center.

Pennsylvania Department of State spokesman Ron Ruman says registered voters will have the option of getting a voting only ID card, even if they would qualify for a secure PennDOT ID. He says there’s a lesser level of identification to get the DOS ID.  He says all the registered voter needs to do is provide a name, date of birth and Social Security number.

Ruman says if there is a problem verifying that information; the department will reconcile that issue and mail the ID to the voter.  He says if issues remain, voters should call 1-877-VOTES-PA.

Ruman says the change is in response to the court review of the law. He says the state Supreme Court called into question whether requiring people to go through the process to see if they qualified for a secure PennDOT ID before they were offered the Department of State Voter ID card was consistent with the General Assembly’s intent to provide liberal access to a voter ID card.  He says they have been making adjustments as the law is being implemented.

Ruman adds that the Department of State card is only good for voting while the PennDOT card can also be used for things like boarding a plane, cashing a check or any other reason that you’d need an ID.

Lawmakers Hear Conflicting Views of Turnpike Finances

Members of the House and Senate transportation committees got a crash course on Pennsylvania Turnpike finances this week.  But it’s a good thing there was no pop quiz, because many of them were left with more questions than answers.  “My head is spinning. Is there a crisis or isn’t there a crisis?” asked Rep. Mike McGeehan (D-Philadelphia), minority chairman of the House Transportation Committee. 

Auditor General Jack Wagner urged the panel to repeal Act 44 of 2007.  While the tolling of Interstate 80 never came to be, the transportation funding law still calls for the Turnpike Commission to make annual payments of $450-million to PennDOT.  “The Turnpike Commission, with debt of $7-billion and growing, is clearly drowning in debt due to the burdens placed on it by Act 44.” 

Wagner says Turnpike debt has increased 181% in the five years since the law was enacted.  “This is all unacceptable because the Turnpike, quite frankly, isn’t going to survive if this continues,” Wagner testified. 

But Turnpike officials are adamant there is no financial crisis.  “We have a developed a sound, fiscally responsible approach to meeting all of our financial obligations, including the $450-million annual payments to PennDOT,” explained Turnpike Commission CEO Roger Nutt.

Wearing his hat as a member of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch explained their annual debt service is only $35-million dollars a year, compared to the $450-million dollar fund transfer to the state.  Over time, Schoch says, the revenue raised from annual toll increases will exceed the debt service, allowing the commission to pay down the debt. 

After meeting for two hours, Senate Transportation Chair John Rafferty (R-Montgomery) announced that a second hearing will need to be scheduled.  The one thing lawmakers and testifiers all seemed to agree on is that Pennsylvania must address its transportation funding crisis… with or without Act 44.

Jobs Bill Unveiled on Lawmakers’ First Day Back to Session

The new bill would incentivize qualified companies to relocate to Pennsylvania by allowing them to keep up to 95% of the Personal Income Tax they withhold on behalf of their employees.  It’s dubbed Promoting Employment across Pennsylvania (or PEP!).    

“Employers that bring a certain number of jobs, pay good wages and provide quality benefits would be eligible for this incentive,” says state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre), the bill’s prime sponsor.  “Keep in mind, right now, we don’t have these jobs or the revenue these employers would be paying through state and local taxes.  In other words we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

At a Monday morning news conference, PEP! supporters indicated that 20-other states already have a similar program in place.  But several lawmakers on the House Finance Committee voiced their concerns at a public hearing that soon followed. 

Pennsylvania’s existing businesses were at the crux of those concerns.  “I want to see jobs created in Pennsylvania, but I don’t want to see it done at the expense of those of us who have struggled through…” says Rep. Scott Boyd (R-Lancaster). 

Minority Chair Phyllis Mundy (D-Luzerne) brought up the so-called Delaware Loophole.  “If we would close that and do some other things, perhaps we could reduce taxes on all the businesses on Pennsylvania; both the existing and luring new businesses here.” 

But Benninghoff, the Finance Committee Chairman, doesn’t believe that HB 2626 would pit existing businesses against those it would lure into the state.  “Remember, we all benefit if a new company moves into our area,” Benninghoff says, as he points out that by giving up one source of revenue, the state would be gaining many more.   

PEP! awaits action in Benninghoff’s committee.