The five-member board spent nearly 90 minutes listening to arguments by a Philadelphia prosecutor and a defense lawyer for Terrance "Terry" Williams before unanimously voting to defer any recommendation to Gov. Tom Corbett.
Williams' fate now shifts back to a Philadelphia judge who is weighing new evidence in the 1984 murder case. Judge M. Teresa Sarmina has pledged to rule Friday morning on a motion to stay the execution scheduled for Wednesday night.
Sarmina's ruling is expected to be immediately appealed to the state Supreme Court.
The pardons board, which includes Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley and state Attorney General Linda Kelly, is weighing whether Williams' death sentence should be commuted to life imprisonment. The board must unanimously support a clemency petition for it to advance to Corbett, but the final decision rests with the governor.
The board rejected Williams' request after the first hearing earlier this month, but voted 4-1 Thursday to grant his lawyer's request for a second hearing. Kelly cast the dissenting vote.
Williams, 46, is on death row for the bludgeoning death of 56-year-old Amos Norwood when he was 18. His lawyers say Norwood had sexually abused him for five years, and they allege prosecutors hid related information about Norwood from jurors, who sentenced Williams to death.
Williams, of Philadelphia, would be the first Pennsylvania inmate executed since 1999, and the first since 1962 who had not given up his appeals.
At Thursday's hearing, defense lawyer Shawn Nolan charged that prosecutors in Williams' trial knew more about Norwood's alleged sexual abuse of boys than they shared with the defense but concealed it because it might have resulted in a less severe sentence.
"They wanted this to be a robbery so they could get the death penalty," Nolan said.
Tom Dolgenos, chief of federal litigation for the Philadelphia district attorney's office, said there is little hard evidence of a sexual connection between Williams and the victim.
"Mr. Williams has never testified that there was such abuse," Dolgenos said. "We're left to piece together hearsay evidence."
Norwood's widow, five jurors, child-abuse advocates and the city's Roman Catholic archbishop are among the supporters of Williams' bid for a life sentence. Norwood's daughter believes he should be executed, according to prosecutors.
Williams, who is incarcerated at Greene state prison in southwestern Pennsylvania, was convicted of third-degree murder for killing the other man, 50-year-old Herb Hamilton.
The former high school football star in Philadelphia was attending Cheyney University when he was arrested in the two 1984 deaths.