His name is ‘Butter’, but to lawyers, judges and cops he’s known as Terrance Williams, a man who, in 2012, came within a few days to die.
Williams was convicted of the 1984 homicide/robbery of a man who he argued had attacked him sexually.
During his Post-Conviction hearing, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge, Theresa Sarmina, ruled that the DA had unlawfully withheld material evidence in his case, and had “sanitized” case documents, in violation of the US Supreme Court’s 1963 Brady v/MD decision. The evidence showed that the victim had in fact been a predator against teenagers (which Butter was at the time), but the DA portrayed him to the jury as an upstanding churchman.
Accordingly, Judge Sarmina invalidated Williams’s death sentence, and stayed the imminent death penalty.
Predictably, the DA appealed; and just as predictably, the PA Supreme Court, composed of several ex-prosecutors (including the man who initially decided to seek the death sentence against Williams!), reversed the post-conviction court and reinstated his death sentence.
Butter’s lawyers, the highly capable Federal Defenders Office, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court — and on Thursday, June 9th, they issued their startling ruling. In a 5-3 decision, Williams v. PA, written by Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court held that former DA and retired PA chief justice, Ronald D. Castille should’ve recused himself from Butter’s* appeal: and further, his failure to do so violated the Due Process Clause of the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Butter’s case thus becomes the law of the land, and a warning to courts to recuse jurists who play pivotal roles in prosecutions.
Such a ruling was pooh-poohed by Castille, who described his role — that is, authorizing prosecution of a death penalty case – as “merely procedural.” [!]
Butter, who now suffers from serious psychological disturbances, isn’t off the proverbial hot seat.
The current DA is going to try to return him to Death Row.