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NORTHWEST NEWS

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McMenamins
David Ariosto CNN

(CNN) -- Pennsylvania's highest court on Wednesday upheld a judge's earlier decision to grant a stay of execution for a man who says the person he killed had sexually abused him years earlier.

The court's decision denied prosecutors an emergency petition to have Terrance Williams, 46, put to death on Wednesday, though the court could decide at a later point to have the execution go forward.

"As the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has now confirmed, Judge (M. Teresa) Sarmina's grant of a stay was factually and legally sound," said attorney Shawn Nolan. "The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office should stop its pursuit to execute Terry Williams."

No one disputes that Williams beat Amos Norwood to death with a tire iron in 1984 or that he should be in prison. But his defense team says information that Norwood had allegedly sexually abused Williams was withheld from the trial, and his life should be spent in a cell.

Last week, Sarmina, a common pleas court judge in Philadelphia, found "reasonable probability" that the verdict might have been different had allegations of abuse surfaced during the initial case and that the relationship between the two men had been established but not disclosed.

His attorneys have argued that the jurors who convicted Williams more than 25 years ago were told that it was a robbery-homicide case and never learned of the abuse allegations.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams filed an emergency appeal, and has called the abuse allegations hearsay and "a last-ditch effort to escape punishment."

Williams and accomplice Marc Draper led Norwood, 56, to an area near a cemetery, forced him to lie on the ground, tied him up, gagged him and stole his valuables, the governor's office said in a statement.

"Williams and Draper repeatedly beat the man with a tire iron and a socket wrench and then drove away in the victim's car. Williams later returned and burned Norwood's body," the statement said. Draper is serving a life sentence.

Since the execution date was set, a number of high-profile supporters have called for clemency in the case, including Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly. More than 360,000 people have signed an online petition asking authorities to spare Williams' life. Norwood's widow has also asked for the execution to be called off.

But Norwood's daughter wants the execution to go forward, the Philadelphia district attorney's office said.

She said Friday that accusations of sexual abuse were false and asked the court to uphold the death penalty.

CNN's Sheila Steffen contributed to this report.

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