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Mentally disabled Crafton Heights man won't face death penalty

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Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013, 6:26 p.m.
 

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld an Allegheny County judge's decision to remove a Crafton Heights man from death row because he is mentally disabled.

A jury in 2002 sentenced Connie Williams, 61, to die by lethal injection after convicting him of first-degree murder for killing his wife, Frances Williams, 53, in August 1999. He stabbed her to death, then cut off her head, hands and feet.

Common Pleas Judge Lawrence J. O'Toole in April 2010 removed Williams from death row because his attorneys argued the sentence amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. Prosecutors appealed.

Justices on the Supreme Court saw no errors and upheld O'Toole's decision, citing prominent doctors who testified that Williams' IQ was between 70 and 75.

“Connie's lack of intellect was evident,” public defender Lisa Middleman, who represented Williams during the penalty phase of his 2002 trial, told the Tribune-Review in 2010.

Mike Manko, spokesman for the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office, said no one in his office had read the decision and so could not comment.

Marc Bookman, executive director for the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that helps lawyers whose clients face the death penalty, said the state Supreme Court's decision was the right one.

“The courts have determined intellectually disabled people are less culpable because they may not understand the consequences of their behavior much the same way that juveniles are seen as less culpable,” Bookman said. “We can find them guilty, we can put them in jail for the rest of their lives, but we don't kill them.”

Five doctors testified that Williams had a low IQ and poor mental function.

Dr. Daniel Martell, an assistant clinical psychiatrist in psychiatry and psycho-behavioral science, said Williams was able to have a family, care for his children and “engaged in self-direction” when he murdered his wife and tried to hide the evidence, although “all individuals with mental retardation have some relative strengths in functionality — the true diagnosis of mental retardation comes from examining the person's weaknesses.”

Williams, a former sausage maker and disc jockey, claimed his wife left him, but later told detectives he stabbed her in the chest during an argument, then dismembered her in the basement. He led investigators to where he threw the body over a hillside in the North Side, and to the other body parts buried in McKees Rocks.

Williams was convicted in 1974 of second-degree murder for the stabbing death of his girlfriend's landlord and was sentenced to seven to 20 years in prison. He was released after serving seven years.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-9027 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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