Inmate's Execution Halted by High Court
By Donald P. Baker
RICHMOND, April 2 An execution scheduled for Tuesday the first of five set for this month in Virginia was halted by the U.S. Supreme Court today until it decides whether to hear an appeal from the condemned killer, Terry Williams.
Williams, 43, has been on death row more than 12 years the longest of any of the 38 Virginia inmates awaiting execution for the 1985 killing of an elderly Danville man.
Williams was convicted in September 1986 in the death of Harris Thomas Stone, who was found dead in his bed on Nov. 3, 1985. The local medical examiner concluded that Stone had died of natural causes heart failure because there was no sign of a struggle and no blood. After Stone's blood alcohol content was found to be 0.41 percent, the medical examiner changed the finding to alcohol poisoning.
Just before burial, the funeral director noted a bruise over Stone's left ribs, but the police said the medical examiner believed it to be an old injury.
Almost six months later, Williams, who was then in jail for stealing a watch, sent a letter to the Danville police chief, confessing to killing "that man who die on Henry Street," where Stone's house was.
Stone's body then was exhumed and a new autopsy was performed by a forensic pathologist, who found that two of Stone's ribs had been fractured.
Williams, who had an extensive criminal record, was found guilty of capital murder.
Williams's appellate attorney, Brian A. Powers, of the District, said the jury was never told that just a few hours before Stone was found dead, a neighbor saw him fall on concrete steps and helped him to his bed.
On appeal, both the trial judge, Danville Circuit Court Judge James Ingram, and later U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris, in Alexandria, ordered a new sentencing hearing but were overturned by higher courts. Cacheris said Williams's original attorney had failed to offer mitigating evidence.
Powers said the execution still could go ahead as scheduled if the Supreme Court votes Monday or Tuesday to lift the stay.
But Powers said the stay, which required the votes of five of the nine justices, is "suggestive . . . that the court is struggling with this."
"We're still on pins and needles," said Powers, who telephoned the news to Williams at the Greensville Correctional Center.
"The cause of death, or whether there even was a crime, is still up in the air," said Powers, who said Stone has borderline intelligence and suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome.
The high court stayed an execution in Virginia in the case of Benjamin Lilly on Nov. 9. It held a hearing on March 29, but no decision has been announced. Lilly remains on death row.
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