The Case of “Tookie” Williams


This is a series of articles about the founder of the Crips gang in Los Angeles, who is on death row and scheduled to die on Dec. 13, 2005.


Killer's Fate Rests With Governor


D.A., other officials press Schwarzenegger not to grant Stanley Williams clemency. He says he is facing the decision with dread.


By Henry Weinstein
Los Angeles Times

November 18, 2005

California law enforcement officials have launched an unusually fierce campaign to block clemency for Stanley Tookie Williams, co-founder of the Crips, whose impending execution is shaping up as the state's most closely watched death penalty battle in decades.

In arguments both legal and emotional, officials are asking Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to reject pleas from clergy, legislators and entertainers that Williams, who is scheduled to be put to death Dec. 13 for the murders of four people, has redeemed himself by his work on death row to dissuade young people from joining gangs.

Schwarzenegger has almost total discretion in deciding clemency, which would commute Williams' death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

On Thursday, the governor, speaking to reporters in Shanghai, said he had not made up his mind on the Williams case. He described the decision as "part of the job" but one that he approached with "dread."

"It's never a fun thing to do, let me tell you," he said. "This is the toughest thing when you are governor, dealing with someone's life."

When asked whether redemption or mercy would come into play, the governor responded: "I really don't have any guidelines for that. It's a case-by-case situation."

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office Thursday filed its formal response to Williams' clemency petition, declaring that Williams, 51, is a "cold-blooded killer" who has "left his mark forever on our society by co-founding one of the most vicious, brutal gangs in existence, the Crips."

The filing was backed by personal letters from Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, the head of the California District Attorneys Assn., the president of the California Gang Investigator's Assn. and the stepmother and brother of one of the murder victims, all urging the governor to show no mercy to Williams, who has been on death row for 24 years.

Harriet Salarno, chairwoman of Crime Victims United of California, said her group was trying to raise money to bring the victims' families, who are in the Midwest, to California to watch the execution. Williams must "be held accountable for the crimes he committed and the lives he took," and his execution will send out an anti-gang "message that is loud and clear," Salarno said.

Earlier this month, the California Department of Corrections briefly posted a statement on its website contending that a decade ago Williams had entrenched himself as the leader of the Crips at San Quentin.

State Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), among others, expressed anger that the government agency had taken a public position on a condemned man, and the statement has since been removed from the website. On Thursday, Corrections Department spokeswoman Terry Thornton said that there was "nothing sinister" about the statement and that the department, like many organizations, frequently changes things on its website.

On Saturday, a pro-Williams rally outside San Quentin prison will feature rap star Snoop Dogg. In addition, Williams' supporters have scheduled several other rallies and showings of "Redemption," a film about his life starring Academy Award-winner Jamie Foxx.

Williams was convicted of murdering Albert Owens at a 7-Eleven in Pico Rivera in February 1979, and Tsai-Shai Yang, Yen-I Yang and Yee-Chin Lin at a South Los Angeles motel in March 1979.

He has consistently maintained his innocence, and supporters are focusing on his anti-gang work, including several books he has written, since his turnaround on death row.

Schwarzenegger denied the two other requests for clemency he received, one from Donald Beardslee, who was executed earlier this year, and another from Kevin Cooper, who was granted a stay by a federal appeals court hours before he was to be killed last year by lethal injection. His case is still pending.

New York attorney Peter Fleming Jr., Williams' lead clemency lawyer, took some comfort in the papers filed by the district attorney's office Thursday. "Significantly, for the issue which faces the governor, the district attorney does not challenge, and essentially concedes, the basis of our petition — that for over a decade Stanley Williams has been a force for good and a source of hope for those who live with a sense of hopelessness," Fleming said.

Law enforcement officials, however, have told the governor that they don't believe in Williams' redemption because he has refused to admit that he committed the murders and has declined to participate in "debriefing" sessions with corrections officials about gang members.

Williams has said that even though he formally renounced gang life in 1997, participating in the "debriefing" sessions would make him a "snitch."

"Despite the overwhelming nature of the evidence against him, and despite the nonexistence of any credible defense, Stanley Williams steadfastly refused to take any responsibility for the brutal, destructive and murderous acts he committed. Without such responsibility, there can be no redemption, there can be no atonement, and there should be no mercy," says the filing by the district attorney, which was signed by John Monaghan, assistant head deputy district attorney, and Deputy Dist. Atty. David Walgren.

Cooley's letter to Schwarzenegger said that since Williams founded the Crips in 1979, the gang "has been responsible for literally thousands of murders in Los Angeles County alone."

Bratton took a similar approach. "While Williams' supporters talk of his reform and rehabilitation, one must not lose sight of the fact that Williams' actions still impact the victims' families and the nation as a whole. The Crips street gang continues to commit murders and other violent crimes."

Among the most poignant letters sent to the governor was one from Owens' brother, C. Wayne Owens, who said that his brother moved to Los Angeles at the age of 26 with his wife and two children.

"And then, one night, someone held up the store where he worked as a clerk. He did not resist. In fact, he did, as he was taught to do, whatever the robbers told him. Despite Albert's cooperation, they took him into the back of the store, forced him to lie down on the floor and then shot him twice in the back. He was not a threat to them, he was not fighting them. He wanted to live."





Californians Conflicted on Williams' Fate


By Mark Z. Barabak and Michael Finnegan


Los Angeles Times

December 5, 2005

If Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is feeling conflicted as he weighs life or death in the case of Stanley Tookie Williams, he is not alone.

Bill Knox opposes capital punishment because he believes it has not "been handled fairly over the decades … especially in the minority communities."

Still, the law is the law. If Schwarzenegger believes, after Thursday's clemency hearing, that Williams deserves to die for the 1979 murders of four people, "then he has to carry out the sentence," said Knox, a 57-year-old retired corporate executive in Danville, an affluent suburb east of San Francisco.

"I don't personally like it, but I have to separate myself from a bigger system," he said.

Just over Altamont Pass, dotted with churning windmills and grazing cows, Joe Cisneros is equally torn.

He supports the death penalty "to a certain extent." But the Williams case is a hard one, he says.

"What he's doing, writing books, trying to keep future generations out of gangs — that type of a figure kids might want to listen to," said the 58-year-old Cisneros, who has operated a hair salon in downtown Tracy for nearly 30 years. On the other hand, he said, "You've got to show these gangbangers if you do the crime, you've got to pay for it."

Cisneros finally threw his hands in the air, literally, his palms facing the ceiling. "When you're in that position like Arnold is, it's a tough one," Cisneros concluded. "I can't make that judgment call. I just can't."

Deciding whether someone should live or die with the sanction of the state cannot be an easy thing. Schwarzenegger has already said he dreads deciding whether to let the Dec. 13 execution go forward. But although the judgment will not hinge on politics, the choice is particularly fraught for Schwarzenegger as he seeks to recover from last month's disastrous special election and runs for a second term next year.

Abandoned by a large swath of the state's Democratic-leaning electorate, Republican Schwarzenegger has worked to reclaim his centrist image by aggressively reaching out to old adversaries, even going so far as naming a longtime Democratic activist, Susan Kennedy, as his new chief of staff.

Granting clemency to Williams "would fit in with that kind of new characterization" of the governor as a more "humane, caring individual," said Larry N. Gerston, a San Jose State political scientist.

And yet blocking Williams' execution could further antagonize conservatives already outraged by Kennedy's appointment and Schwarzenegger's talk of huge new borrowing to pay for improved roads, ports and other infrastructure projects. "If he blinks on this issue, does he perhaps add more fuel to that fire and open the possibility for a primary fight?" Gerston asked.

But public opinion on the matter appears shaded with nuance. In polls taken over roughly the last decade, a majority of Californians have consistently said they support the death penalty for serious crimes. At the same time, some surveys have also found strong support for an alternative sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

A series of random interviews around the state last week — in politically competitive areas reflecting California as a whole — found similar ambivalence among nearly four dozen individuals who agreed to discuss their views on Schwarzenegger, capital punishment and the choice the governor faces.

Supporters of the death penalty expressed concern about its application, citing cases of innocent men being freed from death row on the basis of new DNA evidence. Opponents questioned whether it was fair that Williams' fame — Jamie Foxx starred in a movie based on his life and has joined other celebrities in taking up his cause — has given him a shot at clemency that others were denied.

Lance Leber seemed to be a walking embodiment of on-the-one-hand, on-the-other sentiment.

"If someone hurt my family, I'd be quite upset. I don't know what kind of reaction I'd have," said the lanky 33-year-old, a wine shop owner and part-time disc jockey in Livermore, on the far eastern reaches of the San Francisco Bay Area.

"It matters if he's 100% guilty or not. There's some things I've heard that this guy's done some major repentance. But even with that … does that really matter?"

Weighing vengeance and mercy as he stood in the middle of a strip mall parking lot on a cold, blustery day, Leber finally said, "I just don't think the death penalty would be the right solution in this case. There's too much controversy."

There were plenty of people who had no doubt, one way or the other — among them Marie Retti, a 56-year-old cattle rancher who was slinging 20-pound bags of cat food into her faded red pickup nearby.

"Didn't he kill four people? Didn't he influence a lot of people to kill a lot of other people?" Retti said of Williams, co-founder of the Crips street gang. "I think evil is evil, and I don't think people change."

Four hundred miles to the south, in the bluff-top suburbs north of San Diego, Marge Benton said much the same thing. "Right is right and wrong is wrong, and an eye for an eye," the 81-year-old retiree said after a worker at Solana Beach's Dixieline Lumber loaded starter logs into the trunk of her white Lexus. "If you kill somebody, you have to pay the price."

Mention of that Old Testament injunction brought a smile to John King's face. The 50-year-old air traffic controller was navigating the crush of holiday shoppers at an upscale mall in Pleasanton, east of San Francisco. "I guess those people must believe in the Bible," he said of the eye-for-an-eye adherents. "So therefore, if they believe in the Bible, they should believe that God is the only one who has the power over life and death."

Although Benton is a fan of the governor and King opposed the recall that carried Schwarzenegger to office, opinions about Williams did not always divide neatly along partisan lines.

Around the corner at the Pleasanton mall, Democrat Jesus Romero questioned the sincerity of Williams' jailhouse crusade against violence. "I've seen him in interviews. I've seen the books that he's written," Romero, 31, a juvenile counselor, said as he strained to keep an eye on his rambunctious 2-year-old, Isaac. "He's done a lot of bad. He's trying to do good, but in a way I think he's just trying to save himself."

Conversely, although Republican Chris Rudd was hazy on the facts in Williams' case, he confessed to being "a little ambivalent" when it comes to the death penalty in general.

"Without really solid evidence, I know that juries make mistakes," the 72-year-old retired metal parts salesman said as he waited to meet a buddy for breakfast at an International House of Pancakes in Glendale. "Sad to say, we all do."

Whatever Schwarzenegger's decision, there was little sense among voters questioned last week that it would haunt him politically.

Many said they empathized with the difficulty the governor faces, and more than a few said they were glad it was his responsibility and not theirs.

Even some of those who felt strongly one way or the other said they could understand the governor's reaching a different conclusion.

"The death penalty is like abortion," said Sherry Cain, 61, as she stopped by Dixieline Lumber to pick up some poinsettias. "It's a real personal issue and it's very difficult."

Although opinions were decidedly mixed on whether Schwarzenegger deserves reelection, not one of those interviewed said they would base their decision on his actions in Williams' clemency case.

Kathy Kindred, the 43-year-old owner of K2 Knits Yarn Salon in Tracy, is a staunch Schwarzenegger backer and proponent of the death penalty.

"If he did take the lives of four, I think he should pay for it, no matter how good," Kindred said of Williams as she smoked a cigarette in front of her shop on a downtown side street.

"I think there is a trend in our society now where we make excuses for things. This gentleman, Tookie Williams, obviously reacted by turning over a new leaf. But he still should be responsible for what he did," she said.

That said, if Schwarzenegger allows Williams to live out his life behind bars, Kindred still plans to vote to give the governor a second term.

"I elect somebody not to have to watchdog them. I elect them on their overall campaign," Kindred said. "Some things Schwarzenegger has done I don't agree with. But I'm going to do things that people don't agree with."

See Debates Below


He's a murderer. He should die.


By Joshua Marquis, district attorney of Clatsop County, Ore., is vice president of the National District Attorneys Assn. and coauthor of "Debating the Death Penalty."

December 4, 2005


Los Angeles Times

There are heartfelt moral and religious reasons to oppose capital punishment, but holding up Stanley Tookie Williams as a symbol of redemption is absurd and obscene.

It is especially offensive to his victims' families, whose names the celebrities championing his cause probably don't know. News coverage rarely mentions Albert Owens or the Yang family, all gunned down by Williams in a series of crimes in 1979. The Crips' reputed co-founder also bears moral responsibility for the deaths of countless young black men.

Williams told the BBC in a 2003 interview that his imprisonment is the result of "bad karma." He is more right than he probably intended. Karma is the consequence of choices freely made. Williams chose death for a lot of people, without justice, without appeal, without consideration of anything other than his totalitarian goals.

Stripped of his celebrity, Williams isn't much different from the more than 600 men on California's death row. He killed multiple victims, he has never taken responsibility for his crimes, and he has had decades to fight his death sentence.

Not only did he brag to his brother about the dying anguish of Owens, but after slaughtering the Yang family, he boasted to fellow gang members he had killed "some buddhaheads." His true distinction comes only in his possibly being the second African American among the 12 people the state of California has executed in the last 35 years.

According to a Gallup poll in May, nearly 75% of Americans support capital punishment for murderers. There are some murderers so heinous and so evil that removing them is the measure of the severity of their violation of the social contract. Williams qualifies.

Religious, artistic and academic elites that most vociferously oppose capital punishment are the least affected by violent crime. They invariably avoid discussion of the toll homicide takes on victims, their survivors and the communities hardest hit by murder — people of color and the poor. A black man in the United States is seven times more likely to be a victim of homicide than a white man.

So what makes Williams deserving of the extraordinary benefit of commutation? We are asked to believe that because he has coauthored some children's books he has "reformed." Yet he refuses to do what we morally and legally expect even from shoplifters: to express remorse for his actions. His true legacy may lie with his children. His namesake, Stanley Williams Jr., is doing time in another California prison for second-degree murder.

Williams claims he discourages kids from getting involved in gang life, yet a San Quentin official recently suggested that he still orchestrates gang activity outside the prison, according to an Associated Press story.

In his 2004 memoir, he refused to back off the code against "snitching," in which identifying a drive-by shooter is considered a worse sin than shooting a 4-year-old in the head with a Tech-9.

The clamor for Williams' clemency may persuade Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to dispense mercy to him, something Williams never gave Owens, the Yangs or any of the thousands of people the Crips have killed, maimed or terrorized.

But clemency for Williams will not advance serious discussion of the merits of capital punishment. Nor will it succeed in silencing the distant voices of the victims who never make the headlines except as a footnote to the saga of a gang lord adopted by the glitterati.

Williams' case recalls that of Norman Mailer and his friends, who "adopted" killer/writer Jack Henry Abbott. After Mailer and others secured his release from prison, Abbott stabbed and killed a young aspiring actor.

If his sentence is commuted, Williams will be an even shinier icon to the thugs who follow his example into violence and incarceration. He will roam in the general prison population, while his disciples stalk California's streets and malls.



Governor, let Tookie live


By Charles L. Lindner

Charles L. Lindner, past president of the Los Angeles Criminal Bar Assn., has tried many capital cases, eight of which went to the penalty phase. He has one client on death row.

Los Angeles Times

December 4, 2005

In deciding whether Stanley Tookie Williams should die Dec. 13 for murdering four people, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's unenviable task is to play God. The question he must answer is whether Williams' reformation during the last 16 years is sufficient to let him live out his life in prison.

The "old Tookie," circa 1979, shot 7-Eleven employee Albert Owens in the back of the head, execution-style, during a robbery. Two weeks later, he murdered three members of the Yang family while robbing their motel business.

Then there is the "new Tookie," circa 1989 to the present. Returning to death row after more than six years of solitary confinement, Williams wrote children's books advocating nonviolence and alternatives to gangs, and an autobiography. In 2004, he helped broker a peace agreement, known as the Tookie Protocol for Peace, to end one of the deadliest gang wars in the country. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize multiple times.

The law is silent on which Williams the governor should judge, though the long appellate process has morphed a murderer into a peacemaker. But Schwarzenegger can look to the law to make a decision.

The governor has twice considered — and twice denied — clemency for death row inmates. The Williams case is complicated because his accomplishments are dramatic and their effects measurable.

Jonathan Harris, a lawyer working for Williams, asks: If he is not granted clemency based on his personal redemption and the thousands of people he has positively touched, who would you give it to?

Although affirming Williams' conviction and death sentence, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals took the unprecedented step of urging the governor to seriously consider a clemency petition from Williams.

The state's district attorneys, victims rights groups, sheriffs and police chiefs demand that Williams be executed for what a jury said he did: the murder of four people, for which the jury set the penalty as death, not life without parole.

Schwarzenegger should reweigh the penalty-phase evidence based on what is known about Williams now, as opposed to then.

A death penalty case is divided into the guilt phase and the penalty phase. In finding Williams guilty of four murders, a jury determined that he would receive either a sentence of death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In the penalty phase, the jury recommends a sentence. I have argued eight death-penalty phases, and there is nothing in law more weighty and terrifying than pleading for a man's life. My opening statement is always the same:

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you have already determined by your guilt-phase verdict that my client will die in prison and be buried in an unmarked pauper's grave outside the prison's gates. The only remaining question is whether the defendant's death should occur at a time chosen by God, or a time chosen by you."

The evidence presented during the penalty phase is unique in law. The prosecution offers evidence of aggravating factors — why the jury should order the defendant put to death — and the defense puts forth evidence of mitigating factors — why the jury should decide in favor of life without parole. The question for the jury is often whether the defendant's life has any redeeming worth: Has this guy done anything that warrants keeping him alive?

Williams was represented by attorney Joe Ingber, my co-counsel in my first death-penalty case in 1984.

Ingber offered no mitigating evidence at Williams' penalty-phase trial. The California Supreme Court, U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that Ingber performed competently in choosing not to mount a penalty-phase defense, one suspects, because there was not much of one to present.

Schwarzenegger should seriously consider the mitigating evidence that has arisen since Williams was sentenced to death. If Ingber could have presented evidence that Williams would be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize multiple times, that he would write anti-gang children's books and negotiate the end to a gang war, it is reasonable to believe that the jury might have found sufficient value in Williams' life to spare him death.

The controversy over Williams' execution echoes that of rapist Caryl Chessman in 1960. Chessman wrote four popular books about his conviction and imprisonment while on death row. Students in Lisbon, Portugal, rioted in protest of one of his eventual nine execution dates. It is commonly thought that then-Gov. Pat Brown suffered politically when he refused to stay Chessman's execution in 1960. Brown defeated Richard Nixon in 1962 to win a second term.

Still, to his death, Brown, a former district attorney and attorney general, felt that his refusal to ignore politics and commute Chessman's sentence to life in prison was his greatest personal failure.



'Thug life' must be stopped


By George J. McKenna III
George J. McKenna III is the assistant superintendent of the Pasadena Unified School District.


Los Angeles Times

December 4, 2005

AS A CAREER educator in urban schools, including 10 years as principal of Washington Preparatory High School, which is in the community where the Crips street gang originated, I have experienced the horrific effect of gang culture and violence in our schools and neighborhoods. I attended more than 20 funerals of children and adults during my tenure as principal, including two students who died on campus and a mother in the neighborhood — all killed by gangbangers. I am haunted by the tragedy of these lives lost.

Almost more sickening than the slaughter itself is society's tolerance for the commercially lucrative glorification of the "thug life" in movies, clothes and gangsta rap. The devoted educators who work so hard to instill positive values in our children are neutralized by gang violence, drug dealing and disrespect for women that have contaminated our society in the more than 30 years since gangs began intimidating young people who wanted only to learn.

Today, the corporate sponsors, gangsters and wannabes who romanticize the criminal life in rap are like military recruiters whose slick ads and macho spiels appeal to young men's lust for excitement. They are responsible for the fear, distrust and cultural decline that gangs inflict on our communities and are indirectly responsible for the exodus of families and children from inner-city schools and neighborhoods.

We need to intervene. Now. Our schools, churches, civic organizations and political leaders must announce loudly, publicly, collaboratively and repeatedly that we will not tolerate the gun-toting, drug-using, women-dehumanizing images and language that rappers and their corporate sponsors promote as the essence of black culture. We must campaign vigorously against the enemies within our communities and those willing to assist our oppressors in their enslavement of our minds.



NAACP Campaign Seeks Clemency for Williams


By Lisa Richardson


Los Angeles Times

6:04 PM PST, December 6, 2005

Seeking to build pressure on California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the NAACP Tuesday morning kicked off a four-city tour urging the governor to grant clemency to Stanley Tookie Williams, scheduled to be executed next week.

"I am asking Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to spare the life of Stanley Tookie Williams," said Bruce S. Gordon, head of the 96-year-old national civil rights group.

His call was backed by Alice Huffman, president of the group's California chapter, and Democratic Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally.

"I am convinced that our community is best served if Stan is alive and contributing to the guidance of our youth," Gordon said.

From Los Angeles City Hall, the group was to visit San Diego, San Francisco and Sacramento on Tuesday as part of the campaign to persuade the governor to spare former gang member Williams.

Thursday, Schwarzenegger is scheduled to hold a private hearing on Williams, one of the founders of the Crips. Williams is scheduled to be executed early next Tuesday.

In 1981, Williams was convicted of four murders during two robberies. Albert Owens was killed during a robbery of a 7-Eleven store Feb. 27, 1979, and motel owners Yen-I Yang and Thsai-Shaic Yang and their daughter, Yee Chen Lin, were killed in Los Angeles 12 days later.

Williams has maintained that he is innocent. His plea for clemency is based on his transformation while in prison for almost a quarter-century. He and his supporters argue that he has changed his life since his gang days, writing children's books and warning youths of the perils of gang violence.

Law enforcement officials, including Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton and Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca have strongly opposed clemency, calling Williams a coldblooded killer who has "left his mark forever on our society by co-founding one of the most vicious, brutal gangs in existence, the Crips."

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People strongly has opposed capital punishment on the grounds that it is applied in ways that discriminate against blacks.

At the news conference, Gordon called for a moratorium on the death penalty in California and the 37 other states that execute inmates. The federal government and the military also have a death penalty.

Gordon said he met with Williams in his San Quentin cell for 2 1/2 hours on Friday. Gordon said he is convinced Williams is a redeemed man who can use his influence to discourage youths from following a path to crime.

"We're not winning the war on gangs ourselves. To that end we should not execute a man who single-handedly has been able to make a positive difference in so many youths regarding gang involvement," Huffman said.

About 1,000 gang members recently gathered to see a film in which Williams urged them to lead positive lives and avoid his mistakes, said Minister Tony Muhammad, head of Western states for the Nation of Islam.

Williams "has done more from a 4-by-8 cell to convince gang members to get out of the gang life and has saved more lives than those of us in gang outreach," Muhammad said.



Odds Against Williams in Bid for Clemency

Associated Press Writer


December 7, 2005


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Politics and history will not be on Stanley Tookie Williams' side Thursday when the founder of the murderous Crips gang asks Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to spare his life for killing four people during two robberies 26 years ago.

Except for Illinois Gov. George Ryan's 2003 decision to clear out death row in his final hours in office, clemency is a gubernatorial option rarely exercised in today's tough-on-crime climate.

"There are three reasons why clemency is hardly given now," said Michael Radelet, a University of Colorado sociology professor. "One is politics. Two is politics and three is politics."

The last California governor to grant clemency was Ronald Reagan in 1967, but the case was far different from Williams' situation and times have changed dramatically since then.

The life-and-death power bestowed on the kings of England and transferred to governors and presidents of the United States has become a little-used option in the three decades since states resumed executions.

Before 1976, the year the U.S. Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume after a brief hiatus, clemency was routinely granted. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 204 inmates nationwide were spared between 1960 and 1970.

Excluding the 167 Illinois inmates whose death sentences were commuted in 2003, only 63 lives have been spared since 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Most of those acts of mercy were the result of defendants' mental infirmities, doubts about their guilt, or efforts to build confidence in the death penalty system. Last week Virginia's governor commuted a death sentence because a pair of bloody scissors was improperly destroyed after the trial, depriving the defense of the opportunity to conduct new DNA tests.

Williams, 51, is scheduled to die by injection just after midnight Monday for gunning down four people at a convenience store and a motel in 1979. He claims he is innocent, but all the courts that reviewed his case have refused to reopen it.

Hollywood celebrities, capital punishment foes and others contend he has redeemed himself at San Quentin Prison and undergone a death row conversion from gang leader to a man of peace. He has written anti-gang books for children, and many gang members have said his teachings helped them change their ways.

"If Stanley Williams does not merit clemency," defense attorney Peter Fleming Jr. asked in Williams' petition, "what meaning does clemency retain in this state?"

Prosecutors and victims' relatives say he does not deserve mercy because he has not acknowledged guilt and has refused to inform on his gang cohorts.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers will have an hour in private with Schwarzenegger on Thursday to argue their cases. Schwarzenegger has said only that it is a weighty decision and he will give it serious thought.

The odds of getting a reprieve were better in the days before the California Supreme Court twice overturned the death penalty in 1972 and 1976. Following that, the public and lawmakers began cracking down on crime.

The Legislature reinstated the death penalty in 1977. A year later, 72 percent of California voters adopted an even stiffer capital punishment law. In 1986, the voters removed three state Supreme Court justices for reversing too many death sentences. In 1994, voters adopted the nation's toughest repeat-offender law, the three-strikes-you're out measure that allows life sentences for third offenses as petty as shoplifting.

California's death row is the biggest in the nation, with nearly 650 condemned inmates. Eleven inmates have been executed since 1977.

"Clemency has become part of the politics of criminal punishment and has been slowly evaporating," said Frank Zimring, a clemency expert at the University of California at Berkeley. "When it comes to crime and punishment, there's been a conspicuous toughening of the governor and the public."

During his two years in office, Schwarzenegger has denied clemency to two condemned men despite their claims of mental infirmities, innocence and good behavior behind bars.

Schwarzenegger is still smarting from the defeat of four ballot measures he backed during a November special election, and political analysts have said that granting clemency would not sit well with the conservative base the Republican needs if he hopes to win re-election next year.

An independent poll last year found that 68 percent of Californians support the death penalty - 54 percent of Democrats and 87 percent of Republicans.

"If he granted clemency, I would say, it would be a very divisive opinion," pollster Mark DiCamillo said. "Large segments of the public would take him to task."

Clemency has long been intertwined with politics.

Gov. Pat Brown, who in the 1950s and '60s commuted 23 death sentences, more than any California governor, acknowledged that he once let an inmate die in the gas chamber to get a minimum-wage bill through the Legislature.

Gangsters Missed Tookie's Lesson


Steve Lopez

Los Angeles Times

December 7, 2005

If Stanley Tookie Williams has had such a big impact with his antiviolence message from death row, as his supporters would have us believe, then why are the streets so violent and the jails so jampacked with gangbangers?

Seemed like a fair question, so I went to jail Tuesday to talk to gang members about the scheduled Dec. 13 execution of the co-founder of the Crips.

"Some of the youngsters ask, 'Who is he?' " said a 38-year-old Crip with the street name Raymond Stacs.

Stacs noted that many young, active gang members weren't alive when Williams helped start the Crips in 1969. Many weren't born 10 years later, for that matter, when Williams drew a death sentence for murdering four people.

So veterans like Stacs have been educating the youngsters at the Los Angeles County Men's Central Jail, which is home to thousands of gang members who apparently missed the message in Tookie's nine antiviolence children's books.

P. Dog, a 25-year-old Blood from Inglewood Family, is looking at hard time on a kidnapping charge. He said he was familiar with Williams before the recent publicity, and he had a compliment for the onetime leader of the archrival Crips.

"He's done everything he can to transform himself, and he's got more credentials than the people executing him," P. Dog said.

By credentials, I assumed he was referring to Tookie's antiviolence work and the Nobel Prize nominations. So I asked P. Dog if he'd read the books.

He hadn't.

Well, I said, if Tookie's transformation was an inspiration of Nobel proportions, why didn't P. Dog stop banging?

"I thought I knew everything," he said.

Jo Jo, a 39-year-old member of the 21st Street Crips, had a similar answer.

"I was already in too deep," said Jo Jo, who also hasn't read any of Williams' books. He's been too busy terrorizing the streets, he said.

Doing what? I asked.

"Everything you could think of," said Jo Jo, who's facing a third-strike trial on a carjacking charge that could put him away for life. "It was all about money. If it don't make dollars, it don't make sense."

Jo Jo preaches a different sermon these days, crediting Williams as a role model for the redemption Jo Jo now seeks.

"He's someone who affected my life. He's my big homie," said Jo Jo, who never met Williams.

Of course, it could be that a looming third-strike trial has something to do with Jo Jo's Tookie-like transformation, but he talked a good game about the evolution of the Crips.

"It was different when it started, not all about killing. But I saw the negative in it as I got older…. This is nothing but genocide. It's black men killing black men."

There's no need for the state to kill one more, said Stacs. He doesn't buy the argument that an execution sends the right message to all the bangers out there on the streets. On the contrary, it would send the message that there's no point in trying to turn your life around.

"I'm always a Crip," said Jo Jo. "But that doesn't mean you can't change and become a positive member of society. If Tookie lives, it'll do more good than bad."

And if Gov. Schwarzenegger decides to go ahead with the execution, what can we expect on the streets?

"No comment," said Jo Jo.

Despite their speeches on the virtue of coming clean about gang life, the men gave Williams points for his steadfast insistence that he's innocent. There's honor, apparently, in going to the grave without compromise, even though a show of remorse might save Williams' skin.

"I will never apologize for crimes I did not commit," Williams said in his memoir "Blue Rage, Black Redemption." "Being a condemned prisoner, I am viewed among the least able to qualify as a promoter of redemption and of peace. But the most wretched among society can be redeemed."

The men I talked to seem to believe that's true. I asked if they hold Williams responsible for starting something that landed them in jail, and to a man, they refused to point a finger.

"I take responsibility for everything," said Jo Jo.

"I'm a sinner," said P. Dog.

"If I beat this, I'm not doin' it anymore," said Stacs, who, like Jo Jo, has spent half his life in prison and may never see daylight again.

When I was done with them, another inmate called me over.

Look around the room, said the Crip, who's in his late 30s and was handcuffed to an interview table. Look at all the gangbangers.

"And now look at the cops," he said. "They come from the same neighborhood and they made a different choice."

He said he'd been shot in the head and chest, he's spent half his life locked up, and he's read all Tookie Williams' books, if maybe a little too late.

"They glamorize the gangs in movies," he said. "They glamorize gangs in rap. They glamorize criminals. You think doing life in prison is glamorous?"



Williams Case a Question of Mercy


With legal claims rejected, the killer's redemption may be key in clemency decision.


By Jenifer Warren and Henry Weinstein


Los Angeles Times

December 8, 2005

SACRAMENTO — If Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger spares Stanley Tookie Williams from his scheduled execution at San Quentin State Prison next week, he will almost certainly be forced to anchor his decision in a rationale that has virtually disappeared from the modern clemency process: mercy.

Nationwide over the last 30 years, governors commuting death sentences have almost never cited a condemned man's redemption as a reason to save his life. Rather, they typically act because of doubts about guilt, questions surrounding trial fairness, concerns about mental illness or worries that capital punishment disproportionately targets racial minorities.

In the Williams case, legal claims have been rejected repeatedly by courts. His bid for clemency is rooted entirely in what attorneys describe as his metamorphosis behind bars, from the co-founder of the murderous Crips street gang to a peacemaker who writes children's books and preaches nonviolence.

Whether that transformation persuades Schwarzenegger to cancel Williams' death by lethal injection remains to be seen. The governor has not revealed details of his thinking on Williams, and aides would only say that he has been in daily contact with his legal team leading up to today's closed clemency hearing in the Capitol.

Although the Republican governor supports the death penalty, an advisor has said that Schwarzenegger would be open to clemency in the right case. And Schwarzenegger's views on crime and punishment are more nuanced than those of his two predecessors — who presided over 10 executions between them — and he has said the decision in the Williams case is one that he dreads.

In deciding the fate of two other condemned men, the governor rejected clemency, finding no evidence compelling him to act. In January, after he denied clemency for triple murderer Donald Beardslee and allowed the execution to proceed, Schwarzenegger told journalists in his native Austria that the episode marked "the hardest day" of his life.

The law, meanwhile, offers little guidance. There are no rules when it comes to executive commutations, and previous governors characterize clemency decisions as among the most challenging and emotional they faced in office. The public clamor only exacerbates the pressure.

"Clemency is an awesome responsibility," said former Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat who rejected bids from five men who were executed. While Schwarzenegger will clearly be "aware that the world is watching," Davis said, the task is "a very solitary decision, a matter between the governor and his conscience."

Former Gov. Pete Wilson agreed that "you don't take lightly denying life to anyone." On the other hand, he said, Californians have "expressed their approval at the ballot box of imposing the death penalty, and so I think anyone seeking clemency has a very difficult standard to meet."

On Wednesday, lawyers for Williams summarized the line of argument they would be making at today's hearing, which the governor will attend, and said they would be presenting Schwarzenegger with a letter from Williams. They declined to reveal its contents.

Beginning at 10 a.m. today, the governor will hear the presentation from Williams' attorneys and one from the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. Schwarzenegger's aides said he would make no comment, and they could not predict when he might make his decision.

Public support for Williams' clemency, meanwhile, has been intense among some Hollywood celebrities, world famous clergymen and teachers who use his books. Williams' lawyers say tens of thousands of people have written letters and e-mails, urging that their client be allowed to live. And during the past week, supporters have bought full-page advertisements in newspapers, including The Times, to push for clemency.

Williams' allies highlight his portfolio of accomplishment while incarcerated, which includes nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize and ongoing efforts to discourage youths from joining gangs. Allowing Williams to live out his life in prison, they say, will preserve him as a force for good in society while validating the possibility of redemption in today's criminal justice system.

"Tookie Williams is the ideal candidate for clemency because his time on death row has dramatically reinforced the notion that each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done," said Bryan Stevenson, an acclaimed death penalty appellate lawyer and professor at New York University Law School.

Prosecutors and survivors of Williams' victims say his good works should not carry the day. They say Williams remains a man who took four lives and helped launch a gang war that has ravaged American cities.

Williams' pursuit of forgiveness rings hollow, they add, because he has neither apologized to his victims nor agreed to participate in a debriefing with law enforcement officials, a process in which gang dropouts share what they know.

"He seeks redemption, but he won't even take responsibility for murders committed by his own hand, to say nothing of the thousands to die in gang wars he helped encourage," said Joshua Marquis, district attorney for Clatsop County in Oregon and a nationally prominent supporter of the death penalty.

Williams has said he will not apologize for crimes he denies committing, and that to debrief officials would make him a snitch.

Schwarzenegger comes to the clemency decision after a year of sharp political disappointment. Polls show his popularity sagging, and the November special election he called ended in failure for the governor.

Analysts say commuting a convicted murderer's sentence now could be politically perilous; Schwarzenegger would be the first California governor to do so since Ronald Reagan spared the life of a brain-damaged killer, Calvin Thomas, in 1967. Though support for the death penalty has waned, about two-thirds of Californians continue to endorse it, polls show.

Aides say that Schwarzenegger will rely on 30-minute presentations by attorneys at today's hearing, and on the guidance of his legal affairs secretary, Andrea Hoch, and the man who previously held that post and remains an advisor, Peter Siggins.

"This is a decision that transcends political considerations, and he looks at it within a vacuum," said one senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. "There is a life to consider and also the family of the victims to consider and the weight of justice. In the long run, those things endure, rather than any short-term political consequence."

The official also suggested that while a "mercy decision is not precluded," Schwarzenegger laid out strict standards in his previous decisions rejecting clemency.

Those cases involved Beardslee, who killed two Bay Area women in 1981, and Kevin Cooper, who murdered four people in Chino Hills after escaping from a California prison in 1983. Beardslee was executed in January, while Cooper, whose clemency plea drew support from a prominent chorus of Americans, including some in the movie business, was spared after an appellate court ordered a lower court to consider new DNA tests.

In detailed statements, Schwarzenegger focused heavily on the facts of those crimes and found the evidence of guilt overwhelming. With Beardslee, he said he was unmoved by claims of mental impairment and his model behavior in prison. With Cooper, he said that while the inmate's religious conversion and mentoring of others were commendable, they did not "diminish the cruelty and destruction" he had inflicted.

Despite those cases, attorneys for Williams see reason for hope in Schwarzenegger's record on other criminal justice issues. Unlike his predecessors, he has pushed rehabilitation in the state's massive corrections department.

He also differs markedly from Davis and Wilson on granting parole to eligible murderers. Since Schwarzenegger took office, his parole board has judged 336 murderers rehabilitated and suitable for release. The governor approved freedom for 99 of those. Davis permitted only eight such inmates to go free during his five-year term.

Supporters of clemency hope that Schwarzenegger's Austrian heritage may play a role in the decision as well. Austrians are strongly against capital punishment, and the governor has been criticized in his homeland for permitting Beardslee to be put to death.

Just after that execution, a Green Party official pushed unsuccessfully for national leaders to strip Schwarzenegger of his Austrian citizenship. And in the southern city of Graz, near Schwarzenegger's birthplace, the Greens have led a drive to rename Schwarzenegger Stadium, a 15,350-seat soccer venue, because he supports the death penalty.

Schwarzenegger has suggested that growing up in such a culture left an imprint. But during a January trip to Austria, he also said that as governor of California, he was bound to enforce the state's laws.

"I did not have a choice, since I represent as governor a population which is overwhelmingly for the death penalty," he told the newspaper Kronen Zeitung.

Before the 1970s, governors in this country used their clemency power to grant gifts of mercy — to those who had dramatically transformed themselves in prison, for example — and to remedy a miscarriage of justice. But commutations have become rare — and grants based on redemption almost never occur.

"Most governors seem to have forgotten that clemency is an executive act of mercy, not a quasi-judicial review," said Elisabeth Semel, who runs the death penalty clinic at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law.

Since 1976, 231 death row inmates have been granted clemency, while 1,001 individuals have been executed. Three governors account for 184 of the commutations.

One was Illinois' outgoing Republican governor George Ryan, who in January 2003 granted clemency to every inmate on death row, saying the state's capital punishment system was "haunted by the demon of error — error in determining guilt, error in determining who among the guilty deserves to die."

Georgia's governor granted clemency to a killer in 1977 because he felt the man received a sentence that was disproportionate to that received by his co-defendant.

A Kentucky governor spared the life of a killer after concluding that the system had "perpetuated an injustice" by sentencing a man to death for a murder committed at the age of 17. Other governors have said a death sentence was inappropriate to the crime when a battered woman killed her husband.

Occasionally, clemencies are spurred by unanticipated forces. Such was the case in 1999, when Missouri's Democratic governor, Mel Carnahan, spared the life of convicted triple murderer Darrell Mease in response to a plea made by Pope John Paul II during a visit to the state.

Carnahan said he took the action out of "a deep and abiding respect for the pontiff and all that he represents." He commuted only one other death sentence during his tenure, while permitting 38 executions.

But a plea from the pope is no guarantee of mercy, as Karla Faye Tucker found. Tucker, a born-again Christian who was the subject of a massive clemency drive supported by Pat Robertson, was executed in Texas in 1998 despite pressure from Pope John Paul II — and her own telephone interview on "Larry King Live."

In California this week, letters from legislators opposing and endorsing the execution were delivered to Schwarzenegger's Capitol office. One came from state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), who visited Williams in prison in October.

Romero asked the governor to show mercy, "like an Old Testament king with a sword and the power to spare the life of one who kneels before him."

Williams says he has a link to the governor that few, if any, other condemned men could claim. During the 1970s, Williams said in a book he published last year, the two met when they were bodybuilders at Gold's Gym in Santa Monica. Schwarzenegger was so impressed with Williams' physique, the convict recounted, that he once remarked that Williams' biceps looked like legs.

The governor has said he met many people during his immersion in the bodybuilding culture and could not recall whether Williams was among them.

At San Quentin this week, a spokesman said Williams, using his narrow bunk as a table, writes letters on a small typewriter and takes an occasional jog around the fenced enclosure set aside for death row inmates.

But mostly, he spends these days talking with a stream of visitors — the Rev. Jesse Jackson, actor Jamie Foxx and others — reading briefs from his lawyers inside his 41-square-foot cell, and waiting for an answer from Sacramento.


Death or life

Since the U.S. Supreme Court permitted the resumption of capital punishment in 1976, California has carried out 11 death sentences and commuted none. Ordinarily, clemency commutes a death sentence to life in prison.




















North Carolina



New Mexico


































































South Carolina













* In 2003, former Gov. George Ryan granted clemency to all 167 inmates on death row.

Source: Death Penalty Information Center



Gov. Quiet on Williams' Fate


Prosecutors and lawyers for the convicted killer make their arguments as his execution date nears.


By Jenifer Warren

Los Angeles Times

December 9, 2005

SACRAMENTO — The fate of Stanley Tookie Williams rested in the hands of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday after lawyers for the condemned man made a final plea for his life and prosecutors said his crimes merit society's harshest punishment.

After hearing attorneys' arguments during a private, 75-minute meeting, Schwarzenegger made no comment and aides could not say how soon he would decide whether to grant Williams clemency.

"He will deliberate as long as it takes to make a conscientious, fair and just decision," press secretary Margita Thompson said. She said Schwarzenegger would release a written statement as early as today or as late as Monday.

Unless the governor acts or a court intervenes, the four-time convicted murderer and co-founder of the Crips street gang will die by lethal injection at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, becoming the 12th man executed in California since 1978.

None of the lawyers would disclose details of their presentations during the morning session, which took place in the governor's Ronald Reagan Cabinet Room, nor would they characterize Schwarzenegger's reaction.

The governor, seated at the long wooden table that dominates the nondescript conference room, was accompanied by legal affairs secretary Andrea Hoch, advisor Peter Siggins and two other members of his legal team. He did not ask questions, but received a letter from Williams, the contents of which were not disclosed, and viewed some material on a large screen.

Williams' attorneys had hoped to present a videotaped plea from the death row inmate, but San Quentin Warden Steven Ornoski denied the request. Tape-recording of prisoners has been restricted since a gun smuggled inside a recording device figured in a bloody uprising at the prison in 1971 that left inmate George Jackson and five others, including three guards, dead.

Asked to assess the chances of clemency, Peter Fleming Jr., the lead lawyer arguing for Williams at the meeting, told reporters, "I'm not an oddsmaker."

Fleming, who earlier in the week called the governor "a man of courage and independence," said he is "frightened to death" that his client will be executed rather than be permitted to live out his life behind bars.

Los Angeles County prosecutors, meanwhile, said Schwarzenegger was gracious during the hearing. In remarks to the media, Deputy Dist. Atty. John Monaghan said Williams deserved to die for the senseless and brutal shotgun murders of four people during two robberies in Los Angeles in 1979.

Monaghan also said that the considerable public support for Williams should "absolutely not" sway Schwarzenegger.

"The evidence in this case is truly overwhelming," Monaghan said, and Williams "should pay the ultimate penalty for his crimes."

Williams was convicted of killing Albert Owens during the robbery of a 7-Eleven on Whittier Boulevard, and motel owners Yen-I Yang and Tsai-Shai Chen Yang and their daughter, Yu-Chin Yang Lin, who were murdered at the Brookhaven Motel on South Vermont Avenue 12 days later. He has said he is not guilty of the murders, for which he has been imprisoned 24 years.

On Thursday, Fleming said that when he met Williams, he told the inmate, "If you did this, you should confess to it because it will help."

According to Fleming, Williams responded: "If my innocence will cost me my life, so be it."

Williams has confessed to many robberies and assaults, specifically in his memoir, "Blue Rage, Black Redemption."

Williams said he recruited members to the Crips, and that the gang terrorized South-Central in the 1970s. In interviews, he has said that his biggest regret in life was his role in starting the Crips.

"Like locusts we swarmed and stripped people of their valuables — and then melted quickly away," he wrote.

In pleading for clemency, Williams argues that he has transformed himself from a violent thug into a force for social good, one who can dissuade young people from pursuing the destructive life he once led.

He has written children's books and taken other steps to warn youths about the perils of the gangster life.

"You don't fake that for 13 years," Fleming said of Williams' efforts, which began after years in solitary following an initial period of bad behavior behind bars. "A football player responds best to a coach who has played football…. Stanley Williams has been where these at-risk children are."

Prosecutors say that because he has refused to take responsibility for the murders, Williams should not be judged a redeemed man deserving of mercy.

Law enforcement officials, including Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton and Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, have strongly opposed clemency. They call Williams a coldblooded killer and a founding father of one of the nation's most vicious gangs.

While the lawyers made their arguments inside the Capitol, about 100 supporters at a rally outside urged the governor to show mercy.

The crowd gathered beneath the towering Capitol Christmas tree included Bianca Jagger, the former wife of Rolling Stone Mick Jagger and one of the many celebrities who have rallied to save Williams' life.

Chanting "Love life! Save Stan's life!" the protesters waved signs and urged an end to capital punishment. An enormous throng of reporters, including some from outlets as far away as Italy and Japan, were on hand to record the event, illustrating the widespread interest in the case.

One large banner reflected hopes that the governor's Austrian roots might make him inclined to spare Williams and read: "Arnold Would You Execute an Austrian?" There is no capital punishment in Austria, and the governor has been harshly criticized there for allowing an earlier execution.

Elsewhere on Thursday, surviving relatives of one of Williams' victims spoke out on the case. Lora Owens, Albert Owens' stepmother, said that the campaign to save Williams is "all about manipulation" and "Hollywood hype" and expressed confidence that Schwarzenegger would not grant clemency.

Owens' ex-wife, Linda Owens, released a more ambiguous statement, saying she was inviting Williams "to join me in sending a message to all communities that we should all unite in peace."

"This position of peace would honor my husband's memory and Mr. Williams' work," concluded the statement, which did not call outright for clemency and was released by Williams' lawyers.

State and federal courts have repeatedly rejected Williams' legal claims, but the maneuvering may not be over yet. His attorneys are expected to file a motion with the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, perhaps today, seeking permission to file a new habeas corpus petition in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

At San Quentin on Thursday, officials began altering Williams' conditions in preparation for the possible execution, exchanging his clothes for sweats and shackling him and bolting him to a chair during his visits. Guards also removed most personal possessions from his cell, and will allow him only one item at a time — whether it's a toothbrush, a book or anything else — until the execution, corrections officials said.

"You plan on killing somebody, and then you go out of your way to make their last days the most miserable, the most humiliating ever," said Barbara Becnel, a close friend who visited Williams. "They stripped everything from his cell."

San Quentin spokesman Vernell Crittendon said the changes were standard prison protocol, designed to prevent Williams from concealing items that might pose a danger to himself or others as his scheduled death draws near.

"Once we enter a five-day window [before the execution], we take steps to limit his ability to be assaultive," Crittendon said.

If Schwarzenegger grants clemency, he would be the first California governor to give a condemned man a reprieve since 1967. That year, Reagan — whom Schwarzenegger calls his political hero — spared the life of Calvin Thomas, citing evidence that showed the man suffered from brain damage.

Schwarzenegger has said he dreads the decision in the Williams case.

In two previous instances, the governor found no compelling reason to grant clemency to convicted murderers.

One of them, triple murderer Donald Beardslee, was executed in January.

The other, Kevin Cooper, who killed four people in Chino Hills, was at least temporarily spared when an appellate court ordered a lower court to consider new DNA tests.

Schwarzenegger's press secretary said his deliberations on Williams began well before Thursday's hearing.

"It's not something you turn on and off," she said, noting that the governor had received written material from lawyers in the case weeks ago.


Times staff writers Maura Dolan, James Rainey and Henry Weinstein contributed to this report.



The lawyers fighting to save Stanley Tookie Williams' life:

Peter Fleming Jr., 76, is a partner at Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle, a New York firm that began working pro bono on the clemency petition after being approached by the American Bar Assn. A graduate of Yale Law School and a former federal prosecutor, Fleming specializes in white-collar criminal defense work. He successfully represented boxing promoter Don King on fraud charges. He also served as a temporary special independent counsel for Senate leaders investigating leaks of confidential information in the 1991 confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Jonathan Harris, 43, a partner at Curtis, is a Stanford Law School graduate. He specializes in complex litigation.

Lothlorien S. Redmond, 31, is an associate at Curtis. She is a graduate of Boalt Hall School of Law at UC Berkeley, where she worked at the death penalty clinic. She specializes in litigation.

Julie V. Withers, 30, an associate at Curtis, graduated from Fordham University Law School. She specializes in litigation.

Jan L. Handzlik, 60, is a partner in the Los Angeles office of Howrey Simon, Arnold & White, which was asked by Curtis to be California clemency counsel in the case. A UCLA Law School graduate and former federal prosecutor, Handzlik specializes in white-collar criminal defense.

Sandra Smith Thayer, 33, an associate at Howrey Simon, graduated from Tulane Law School and specializes in complex litigation.

Verna J. Wefald, 44, is a former state and federal public defender who specializes in death penalty appeals and other complex criminal cases. She is the only member of the defense team who has extensive experience in capital cases. In the Williams case, she has advised on the clemency petition while concentrating on final court appeals. Wefald, a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, has her own law firm in Pasadena.

The lawyers arguing that Williams should be executed:

Patrick Richard Dixon, 56, has headed the Los Angeles County district attorney office's major crimes division since April 2003 and has prosecuted dozens of criminal cases. A graduate of the University of San Diego School of Law, he joined the district attorney's office in 1976.

John Monaghan, 53, assistant head deputy district attorney, was a deputy district attorney in San Bernardino County before joining the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. He made headlines in 2003 when he fatally shot a suspected traffic violator while serving as a reserve deputy sheriff in San Bernardino County. He said he opened fire when Jose Luis Perea, 47, began fleeing on foot and then turned and reached into his pants. The San Bernardino County district attorney's office declined to prosecute Monaghan, saying there was insufficient evidence. Monaghan is a graduate of the San Fernando Valley College of Law.

David Walgren, 37, a graduate of the UC Davis School of Law, is a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney who has handled numerous major crimes and gun cases.

Lisa J. Brault, 44, is a deputy attorney general who specializes in capital appeals and is defending Williams' death sentence in state and federal court. She is a graduate of Southwestern University Law School.

James William Bilderback, 42, is a deputy attorney general who specializes in capital appeals and is defending Williams' death sentence in state and federal court. He is a graduate of the University of San Francisco Law School.


Death row clash


KFI's "John and Ken" become lightning rods in the Stanley Tookie Williams debate.


By Scott Martelle
Los Angeles Times

December 10, 2005

Tune in to the afternoon "John and Ken Show" on talk radio's KFI-AM (640) and you get a highly personalized take on Stanley Tookie Williams and those who are lobbying for the commutation of his death sentence. NAACP President Bruce S. Gordon is "a lunatic." Los Angeles journalist/progressive political advocate Jasmyne Cannick is a "black racist" and a "crackpot activist trying to make a name for herself." Williams himself? A conman in a murderer's prison jumpsuit.

As the calendar flips quickly to Williams' scheduled execution early Tuesday morning, the former Crip has become a cause celebre for talk radio hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou, who have been devoting the 5 o'clock hour of their 3-to-7 p.m. show to their "Tookie Must Die for Murdering Four Innocent People" campaign — announced with four gunshots symbolizing Williams' victims.

Williams, who has exhausted his legal appeals and has petitioned Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for clemency based on his anti-gang work from death row, would be the 12th man to be executed in California since a 1978 ballot initiative reinstated the death penalty. Compared with the earlier executions, the Williams case, with its colliding moral and social issues, has taken an unusual hold on the public's interest — and become daily grist for Kobylt and Chiampou.

Their broadcasts have drawn outrage from those who perceive whispers of racism coursing through radio dialogues that have included one of the hosts reading Williams' co-written "Gangs and Drugs" book in an affected street accent, mocking the speech of some of Williams' African American defenders.

"They're shock jocks," says Cannick, who, through the Urban Policy Roundtable, filed a complaint against the Clear Channel-owned station with the Federal Communications Commission two weeks ago over the "Tookie Must Die" hour. "What 'John and Ken' are doing is particularly egregious at this stage."

In an interview Thursday, Kobylt said the campaign seeks to expose what he and Chiampou see as falsehoods spread by Williams' supporters over the nature of the killings and what transpired during the trial. According to Arbirtron ratings, their program is the top-rated afternoon-drive talk show in Los Angeles, tied for third overall in a field led by Spanish-language KXOL-FM ("Latino 96.3") and dominated by music-format stations.

"The pro-Tookie side had put together such a powerful mythology that we thought we had to do something that would dramatically [draw] people's attention to the truth of the case," Kobylt says. "It's not just two yahoos screaming, 'Fry him!' "

Critics say "The John and Ken Show" has added little to the public debate over the Williams case, which lies at the intriguing intersection of personal belief in the death penalty and in an individual's capacity for redemption.

"The best stories often aren't about good versus evil, but about one good versus another, irreconcilable good," says Martin Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center and associate dean for programs and planning at the USC Annenberg School for Communication. "In this case, there's the good of retribution versus the good of redemption. Which is more important: the lesson of criminal deterrence or the lesson of personal reformation? Add to that the issue of sincerity, which everyone has an opinion about — has he really changed, or is it an act? — and the case is impossible to ignore."

The case also touches on such nettlesome issues as the relative weights of social good and private retribution; the right of a state to kill its constituents; personal faith that government can get something — the death penalty — right amid general skepticism about bureaucratic efficiency; and pervasive cynicism, particularly among minorities, about how American justice is arrived at in the first place.

Little of that gets explored on "The John and Ken Show." Instead, listeners get interviews with people who mostly agree with the hosts that Williams should be executed, gory and emotion-churning details about the killings, and a steady patter of mockery and ad hominem attacks on those who disagree.

"I don't think it contributes to any thoughtful discussions on the issues," says Franklin Gilliam, founding director of UCLA's Center for Communications and Community.

What it does do, he says, is unleash personal views about race that might otherwise go unexpressed, allowing some venting under the guise of political discourse.

"It is sort of indicative of the corrosive state of American race relations," says Gilliam, who is also a UCLA political science professor. "One of the reasons there is such a piling on and such delight in this is that many people feel stifled to express their views on race, and this allows them to do it in the context of a case where the opposing view is to defend a gangbanger and convicted murderer...."

Co-host Kobylt has said on the air that the hosts have also targeted Scott Peterson, who is white, and convicted child-killers David Westerfield and Alejandro Avila — Westerfield is white and Avila Latino — which he cites as proof that they aren't motivated by race.

The show focuses not on the Tookie Williams of today but on the Williams who was convicted of killing four people during two holdups in February and March 1979.

"We've gone through in excruciating details what Tookie really did" to draw the death penalty in the first place, Kobylt says, while demanding tangible proof that Williams — who still proclaims his innocence — has actually undergone some sort of personal redemption.

"I don't know how he's redeemed," Kobylt says. "How does writing books make up for the loss of the four people who were brutally shotgunned? He's never even admitted to the crime and said he's sorry."

Kobylt says the hosts don't pretend to offer balanced coverage. "What we do is get all the information we can, like a journalist would, but then take it a step further and come up with a judgment," Kobylt says.

And a little controversy rarely hurts ratings.

"The purpose of talk radio is to sell your eardrums to advertisers," Kaplan says. "It's a win-win from the point of view of the corporations that put this content on the air in order to attract listeners and sell advertising."

But it's not a "win-win" for everyone.

"It's not a particularly good thing," Kaplan says, "if you care about civil discourse and reasoned discussion about contentious issues."


Justices Reject Williams' Appeal


By Kenneth R. Weiss and Steve Chawkins


Los Angeles Times

December 12, 2005

The California Supreme Court on Sunday rejected a last-minute legal effort to block Tuesday's execution of convicted murderer Stanley Tookie Williams, while Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger put off announcing any decision on whether to spare his life until today.

The six sitting justices unanimously denied Williams' lawyer's request for a stay of execution. The Supreme Court, in an order signed by Chief Justice Ronald M. George, indicated that the justices have reviewed all nine claims made by his lawyer and denied each one of them on the merits — even though "each claim also is barred as untimely and successive," a legal term that means the justices viewed the claims as repetitive.

Williams' attorney Verna Wefald declined to comment. But she already has prepared a petition asking the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to review the case today, and plans to go to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

Among the claims in her rejected appeal to the state Supreme Court was the assertion that one witness against Williams had an undisclosed history of violent crimes and that a key jailhouse informant had manipulated Williams while he was forcibly drugged by authorities.

Williams, co-founder of the Crips street gang, has become an international figure and the subject of a clemency campaign based on the claim that he has redeemed himself with anti-gang activism from death row. He has denied he committed four murders he was convicted of more than two decades ago.

Williams' supporters on Sunday said they have uncovered new information that would help exonerate him — information already passed on to the governor.

Alice Huffman, the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People's state president, said the group received a call Thursday from a former Los Angeles County jail inmate who can bolster Williams' allegations that he was framed by police working with a jailhouse informant.

The NAACP contact, Gordon Bradbury von Ellerman, 46, of Los Angeles, said he saw officers deliver police reports about Williams' case to George Oglesby, an inmate who later testified against him. Von Ellerman said he came forward only now because he did not learn until last week that Oglesby had been a witness at Williams' murder trial.

The governor has until midnight tonight to make a clemency decision that would commute Williams' death sentence to life in prison.

Williams is scheduled to be executed at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. He was convicted of fatally shooting Albert Owens during a 1979 robbery at a 7-Eleven in Pico Rivera, and also of the 1979 murders of South Los Angeles motel owners Yen-I Yang and Tsai-Shai Chen Yang and their daughter, Yu Chin Yang Lin.

At the gates outside San Quentin State Prison, a handful of demonstrators stood silently, displaying signs of support. "We recycle plastic, we recycle glass — so why throw away a human life when it's been made into something useful?" asked Carma Helzer, the mother of another inmate.

While Sunday was tranquil on the road of million-dollar homes leading to the prison, preparations were underway for a tense vigil Monday night. Some residents had sold parking spaces to TV crews for as much as $2,000, and members of a Berkeley church unloaded 50 white wooden crosses that will be held aloft by protesters if the execution goes forward.


Schwarzenegger Rejects Williams' Bid for Clemency


By Henry Weinstein and Michael Muskal
Los Angeles Times

2:47 PM PST, December 12, 2005

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today rejected clemency for Stanley Tookie Williams, convicted murderer and one of the founders of the Crips.

The decision was announced moments after a federal appeals court in San Francisco turned down Williams's request for a stay of execution. Williams is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.

"Clemency cases are always difficult and this one is no exception," Schwarzenegger said in a prepared statement.

"After studying the evidence, searching the history, listening to the arguments and wrestling with the profound consequences, I could find no justification for granting clemency."

Schwarzenegger's statement noted all of the issues that had been litigated in the appeals process.

"Based on the cumulative weight of the evidence," he said "there is no reason to second guess the jury's decision of guilt or raise significant doubts or serious reservations about Williams' convictions and death sentence."

Today's double blow seems to ensure that Williams will be executed as scheduled. Williams supporters will seek to have the U.S. Supreme Court intervene, but the governor was considered Williams' best possibility

The state Supreme Court rejected a last-minute plea Sunday night, and today, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the stay at 11:30 a.m.

It is possible that a larger panel of judges from the circuit could consider the case if a judge on the court asks for what is known as "en banc" review. If a majority of the circuit's 25 active judges votes for a rehearing, a panel of 11 judge will then consider the case.

The governor's rejection of clemency was personally and politically difficult for Schwarzenegger, who has denied two pleas for clemency in other cases.

The last Californian to be given mercy was a mentally ill killer, spared in 1967 by Ronald Reagan.

The governor, whose career has been based on his popularity, was soundly rebuffed by voters in the recent special election. Recently, the governor named a Democratic Party activist, Susan Kennedy, as his new chief of staff sparking outrage from his Republican and conservative supporters.

Schwarzenegger met with Williams' lawyers last week to hear arguments for and against clemency. Williams, 51, sent a personal letter to the governor, seeking clemency.

The campaign to save Williams has been the fiercest of any recent effort to halt an execution. Hollywood luminaries including Jaime Foxx and influential groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People campaigned on behalf of Williams.

In 1981, Williams was convicted of four murders during two robberies.

Albert Owens was killed during a robbery of a 7-Eleven store on Feb. 27, 1979, and motel owners Yen-I Yang and Thsai-Shaic Yang and their daughter, Yee Chen Lin, were killed at the Brookhaven Motel on South Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles 12 days later.

Williams has maintained that he is innocent. His plea for clemency was based on his transformation while in prison for almost a quarter-century. He and his supporters argue that he has changed his life since his gang days, writing children's books and warning youths about the perils of the gangster life.

Law enforcement officials, including Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, strongly opposed clemency, calling Williams a cold-blooded killer who has "left his mark forever on our society by co-founding one of the most vicious, brutal gangs in existence, the Crips."

On Oct. 11, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Williams' last appeal.

On Sunday night, the California Supreme Court voted 6-0 to deny Williams a stay of execution. His lawyer Verna Wefald then filed a 150-page habeas corpus petition and request for a stay with the 9th Circuit.

The federal petition raised a host of issues, including the assertion that Williams is "actually innocent" of the four 1979 murders for which he has been on death row at San Quentin for 24 years.

Under federal law, courts are required to dismiss what are known as "successor" habeas corpus petitions dismissed unless the defendant can demonstrate:

· That his claim relies on a new interpretation of constitutional law, made retroactive by the U.S. Supreme Court, that was previously unavailable;

· That the factual predicate for the claim could not have been discovered previously through the exercise of due diligence;

· That the facts underlying the claim, if proven and viewed in light of the evidence as a whole, would be sufficient to establish by clear and convincing evidence that, but for constitutional error, no reasonable fact finder [jury or judge] would have found the petitioner guilty of the underlying crime.

The 9th Circuit panel ruled today that Williams did not assert a "new rule of constitutional law."

The court also said that to the extent that Williams' claims are not subject to mandatory dismissal because they were previously presented, he "has not made a prima facie showing that his claims, whether viewed individually or in the aggregate, could meet the statutory requirements of both due diligence and clear and convincing evidence of actual innocence."

Consequently, the judges denied his request to have the petition considered in full and denied the stay of execution.

The order was issued in the names of Judges Proctor Hug, T.G. Nelson and Ronald Gould, the same panel that in 2002 rejected Williams's request to have his conviction and death sentence overturned. That panel, in a rare move, suggested that Williams might be a worthy candidate for clemency because of his anti-gang activities while on death row.

Earlier today, the Compton NAACP and other community activists said they had new evidence offered by a man who shared a cell with an informant in the Williams case in Men's Central jail. They also called for investigations into all death row cases where jailhouse informants had been used.

Gordon Bradbury Von Ellerman, 46, said he saw officers deliver police reports about Williams' case to George Oglesby, an inmate who later testified against him. Von Ellerman said he came forward now because he did not learn until last week that Oglesby had been a witness at Williams' murder trial.

It would have been "unfathomable" for Williams to confess to Oglesby, he said, not only because Oglesby was widely regarded as a snitch but also because the two men were housed in different units and had only the barest interaction.



Tookie Williams Is Executed


The killer of four and Crips co-founder is given a lethal injection after Schwarzenegger denies clemency. He never admitted his guilt.


By Jenifer Warren and Maura Dolan


Los Angeles Times

December 13, 2005

Stanley Tookie Williams, whose self-described evolution from gang thug to antiviolence crusader won him an international following and nominations for a Nobel Peace Prize, was executed by lethal injection early today, hours after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to spare his life.

His death was announced at 12:35 a.m.

During the execution, the inmate’s friend Barbara Becnel and other supporters mouthed "God bless you" and "We love you" and blew kisses to Williams. Williams also seemed to mouth statements to Becnel.

The entire procedure took longer than usual. The execution team took about 12 minutes to find a vein in Williams’ muscular left arm. While the personnel were probing, Williams repeatedly lifted his head off the gurney, winced visibly, and at one point appeared to say: "Still can’t find it?"

After Williams was pronounced dead, Becnel and two other supporters of Williams turned toward the media in the witness room and yelled in unison, "The state of California just killed an innocent man!"

Lora Owens, murder victim Albert Owens’ stepmother, appeared shaken, and was embraced by another woman.

Outside the gates of San Quentin as midnight approached, speakers urged calm. There was a moment of tension when a Williams’ friend, Fred Jackson, told the crowd, "It’s all over."

Angry shouts broke out. A woman sobbed on someone’s shoulder, and a man burned an American flag. As Jackson continued to urge calm, the crowd dispersed.

Speaking outside the gates of San Quentin after the execution, Becnel, who is taking possession of Williams’ body, called Schwarzenegger a "cold-blooded murderer" and vowed to work for his defeat in the next election.

Despite persistent pleas for mercy from around the globe, the governor earlier in the day had said Williams was unworthy of clemency because he had not admitted his brutal shotgun murders of four people during two robberies 26 years ago.

After the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request for a last-minute stay Monday evening, the co-founder of the infamous Crips street gang — who insisted he was innocent of the murders — became the 12th man executed by the state of California since voters reinstated capital punishment in 1978.

With its racial overtones and compelling theme — society’s dueling goals of redemption and retribution — the case provoked more controversy than any California execution in a generation, and became a magnet for attention and media worldwide.

A long list of prominent supporters — as disparate as South African Bishop Desmond Tutu and rapper Snoop Dogg — rallied to Williams’ cause.

But in a strongly worded rejection of Williams’ request for clemency, Schwarzenegger said he saw no need to rehash or second-guess the many court decisions already rendered in the case, and he questioned the death row inmate’s claims of atonement.

Williams, the governor said in a statement, never admitted guilt, plotted to kill law enforcement officers after his capture, and made little mention in his writings of the scourge of gang killings, which the statement called "a tragedy of our modern culture."

As night descended Monday, about 1,000 demonstrators who gathered on a tree-lined street leading to the gates of San Quentin State Prison endured frosty temperatures to protest the execution.

Joan Baez sang "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" as speakers urged participants to keep fighting. Small clumps of people in scarves and gloves held candles and sang hymns, while others wandered off alone, gazing into the bay.

There were small, scattered protests around the state, including a candlelight vigil Monday night in Leimert Park.

A few death penalty supporters also turned out at San Quentin. Scuffles and shoving matches broke out on occasion, but no serious incidents were reported.

Behind the prison’s thick walls, Williams passed his dwindling hours quietly, visiting with friends and talking on the telephone while under constant watch by guards.

An acquaintance described him sitting at a table, handcuffed, next to untouched turkey sandwiches, bidding goodbye to friends in an ordinary, everyday manner.

A prison spokesman said Williams was calm and upbeat, though he ate nothing but oatmeal and milk all day, refusing the privilege of a special last meal. Williams also declined a spiritual advisor.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson said he met twice with Williams, and together with Becnel delivered the news that the governor had denied clemency.

Williams smiled "as if he expected it," Jackson said. He said Williams again denied his guilt, and said that he thought "his baggage as a Crip was on trial more than for the four murders."

In recent statements, Williams had expressed a philosophical attitude about his own death. Fred Jackson, 67, who works with Internet Project for Street Peace, Williams’ gang intervention project, said the inmate struck that tone in a phone conference with an Oakland support group Sunday. "He said he doesn’t fear death — he doesn’t fear what he does not know," Jackson said.

At 6 p.m., Williams was strip-searched, given a set of clean clothes and placed in a holding cell steps from the death chamber under nonstop observation by a sergeant and two officers.

Officials said he spent the evening watching TV and reading some of the roughly 50 letters that arrived Monday from as far as Italy and Israel — including some from schoolchildren. Many of them said they were praying for him.

Nearby, the injection team began its final preparations in the prison’s converted gas chamber, ensuring that the required needles, tubes and chemicals were in place.

Williams’ son, Stanley Williams Jr., who is in High Desert State Prison serving a 16-year sentence for second-degree murder, will be notified in person of his father’s death by a chaplain and mental health specialist, prison officials said.

The younger Williams is in isolation for disciplinary problems, and would not normally have access to any news source.

Five members of the murder victims’ families were at the prison, although it was not clear how many witnessed the execution. Williams, who earlier said he didn’t want to invite anyone to observe "the sick and perverted spectacle," had five witnesses, including Becnel and members of his legal team.

Officials designated a total of 39 witnesses, including 17 media representatives.

Lora Owens said she did not expect the execution to end the ache over losing her red-haired stepson, Albert, who was killed with a shotgun at the age of 26 while working at a Pico Rivera 7-Eleven late one February night in 1979. But watching the killer take his last breath, she said, might help her "let it go" just a bit.

Advocates for clemency had argued that Williams had unmatched credibility as a messenger urging youths to say no to gangs.

But law enforcement officials and victims’ rights leaders portrayed Williams as a fraud whose influence on would-be gangsters was overblown.

Prosecutors said the absence of a confession, and Williams’ refusal to formally cut ties with the Crips by sharing his knowledge of gang tactics with police, disproved his claim of rehabilitation.

"What kind of message does that send to young children, when somebody like Mr. Williams, who supposedly has their attention, tells them, ‘Don’t snitch, don’t talk to police, don’t tell people who was involved in a crime?’." said John Monaghan, a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney.

As Schwarzenegger weighed his decision, attorneys for Williams spent the weekend hunting for a court that might issue a stay.

On Sunday, the state Supreme Court turned back arguments that his trial was "fundamentally unfair" in part because prosecutors had failed to disclose that a key witness, Alfred Coward, was a violent ex-felon. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and finally the U.S. Supreme Court followed suit Monday.

After the governor rejected clemency, lawyers asked Schwarzenegger for a stay on the basis of three witnesses who they said had come forward just this week with exculpatory information. But Schwarzenegger again delivered a rebuff.

Just before 9:30 p.m., Williams’s lawyers filed another petition, citing a fourth purported witness who claimed other inmates tried to recruit him into a scheme to frame Williams. The governor denied that, too.

Born in New Orleans, Stanley Tookie Williams III was named for his father but raised by his mother. Hoping to escape poverty and crime in Louisiana, the family moved to South Los Angeles in 1959.

He spent his youth as a delinquent, rebounding in and out of Central Juvenile Hall. In his writings, he admitted that he was a megalomaniac who beat, robbed and shot at the innocent.

By the 1970s, Williams was viewed as one of the more menacing toughs in South Los Angeles, weighing 300 pounds with biceps measuring 22 inches.

In a move he said he regretted more than any other, he helped launch the Crips — originally called the Cribs — and began terrorizing the streets.

On Feb. 27, 1979, he and three cohorts smoked cigarettes laced with PCP and, armed with a 12-gauge shotgun and a .22-caliber handgun, set out on a late-night search for a place to rob, according to court documents.

They wound up at the 7-Eleven where Owens, a father of two and Army veteran, was working the overnight shift. Owens was shot twice in the back.

Less than two weeks later, Williams broke down the door at the Brookhaven Motel and killed the motel’s owners, Taiwanese immigrants Yen-I Yang, his wife, Tsai-Shai Chen Yang, and their daughter, Yu Chin Yang Lin, who was visiting.

The two robberies netted $220.

In 1981, a jury in Torrance convicted Williams, landing him on death row. Initially his conduct was disruptive: "I gave this place hell," he acknowledged in an interview.

While in solitary confinement, however, he began a transformation, Williams said. At first he read voraciously — the Bible, the dictionary, philosophy, black history — and struggled to understand his past.

By 1992, Williams was a changed man, he said, deeply remorseful for the bloody rampage the Crips had perpetrated across America — and for the gang life that lured in one of his two sons.

In 1994, Williams left solitary confinement and declared himself a champion of peace.

With the help of Becnel, he wrote a series of books warning youths away from violence and brokered gang truces in Los Angeles and New Jersey. Last year, his life became the subject of a TV movie, "Redemption," starring Jamie Foxx, and his imposing appearance gradually gave way to a graying beard and spectacles.

Reached by phone at her Los Angeles home as the execution was underway, Williams’ ex-wife, Bonnie Williams Taylor, said, "This is an awful time. I want to be with my family."

Earlier in the evening, dozens of people had gathered in Leimert Park in Los Angeles to oppose the execution. But the speakers who addressed them focused more on healing crime in black communities than on Williams’ plight.

"We have to understand," said African American activist Eric Wattree, 53, speaking to a mostly black crowd early in the evening, "this is our failure taking place here."




'I Watched a Man Die Today'


Steve Lopez

Los Angeles Times

December 13, 2005

SAN QUENTIN— It’s just past midnight and another Crip is on his way to the graveyard.

Stanley Tookie Williams, who shotgunned four people to death a quarter of a century ago and couldn't sell the story of his redemption to anyone who mattered, took a lethal shot in the arm and closed his eyes for good.

I watched him die from 12 feet away. The execution team struggled to tap a vein, and Williams raised his head as if to question their competence. He also looked at supporters and exchanged final words with them before the drugs kicked in and he was gone.

Nothing I saw made me feel any differently about Williams, the Crip co-founder whose legacy is terrorized neighborhoods and a chorus of weeping mothers.

His anti-violence books and speeches were too little, too late, and the methodologizing of him was as unconvincing as the Nobel nominations.

But his execution was a macabre spectacle in a nation that preaches godly virtue to the world while resisting a global march away from the medieval practice of capital punishment.

I would have had no problem leaving Williams locked up with his regrets and haunted by his deeds for the rest of his natural life.

I watched a man die today, killed by the state of California with institutional resolve, and wondered what we gained.



Why Arnold Killed Tookie

Dave Zirin
December 13, 2005


[Editor's Note: WireTap Magazine sent a reporter to cover the protests at San Quentin Prison last night and this morning. Please read Tookie's Final Hour for Jennifer Liss' report and photos from the prison.]

In the end, we can only assume the decision wasn't so "agonizing" after all. Last night Stan Tookie Williams was legally lynched by the state of California, at the behest of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who denied Williams' appeal for clemency. The Governor deemed that a man who had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times and brokered gang truces from Newark to South Central was not worthy to walk and breathe among us.

Stan's case for clemency was so compelling it was articulated by people from Desmond Tutu to Snoop Dogg, and yet, watching Schwarzenegger in action has been to observe the nexus of cold-hearted political calculation and cowardice.

Williams' Attorney John Harris challenged the governor to meet with Tookie, saying to the San Francisco Chronicle, "It's impossible to me to believe that if you had met Stanley Williams and spent time with him, that you would not believe in his personal redemption." But that would require a courage the Governor has never demonstrated.

Unlike the movie tough guy always ready to look his victims in the eye -- a quip at the ready -- before shooting, stabbing, or beheading them, Arnold made his decision at safe remove, hanging out this weekend at his son's soccer game, his face a waxy mask of carefree detachment, while Tookie's supporters organized, marched, chanted and prayed themselves hoarse.

When it finally came time for Arnold to announce his personal judgment that Stan Williams should die, tragedy became farce. The Governor's office released an ugly scandalous diatribe that qualifies as nothing less than hate-speech.

As he -- or his script doctor -- wrote:

"The dedication of Williams' book Life in Prison casts significant doubt on his personal redemption. This book was published in 1998, several years after Williams' redemptive experience. Specifically the book is dedicated to Nelson Mandela, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Assata Shakur, Geronimo Ji Jaga Pratt, Ramona Africa, John Africa, Leonard Peltier, George Jackson, Mumia Abu Jamal, and the countless other men, women, and youths, who have to endure the hellish oppression of living behind bars. The mix of individuals on this list is curious. Most have violent pasts and some have been convicted of committing heinous murders including the killing of law enforcement. But the inclusion of George Jackson on this list defies reason and is a significant indicator that Williams is not reformed and that he still sees violence and lawlessness as a legitimate means to address societal problems."

For Tookie, all of these folks, from Mandela, to Malcolm, to Assata, are one and the same: people of color who strove for liberation in the darkest of circumstances. For Schwarzenegger, the whole lot is the same as well: people who are his political enemies because they refused to be broken. Notice the singling out of George Jackson, author of Soledad Brother, a book for which there is no evidence Schwarzenegger has so much as skimmed. Jackson was someone who despite being framed for his political activism never stopped organizing. That is the person Schwarzenegger wants to kill by executing Tookie.

Later, Arnold passes judgment on Williams' very redemption, writing, "Is Williams' redemption complete and sincere, or is it just a hollow promise? . . . Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings there can be no redemption." In other words, because Williams has consistently defended his own innocence, he should die. But as Tookie once said, "Many people expect me to apologize for crimes I didn't commit--just to save my life. Of course I want to live, but not by having to lie."

While not surprising Arnold did not have the courage to face Tookie and spew this nonsense to his face, it certainly would have been incredible theatre. In fact, it would have been something of a reunion. In the late 1970s, Arnold and Tookie, about fifty life times ago, admired each other's biceps on Muscle Beach in Venice, California. "Your arms are like thighs!" Arnold grinned.

Amazing the difference thirty years makes.

In that time, Arnold rode his muscles and Teutonic good looks from Hollywood stardom to the Governor's mansion. Yes, he had a spotty past including many allegations of sexual assault and drug abuse. But he passed that off as youthful indiscretion, claimed that he had changed, and a pliant media were happy to believe that Arnold was worthy of forgiveness and redemption.

Tookie, like Arnold, also fashioned an unlikely political career. But his began not with Hollywood riches but as the target of the tough-on-crime laws of the Clinton-Bush years which saw the nation's prison population balloon from more than one to two million. He was convicted of murder in a manner that would make Strom Thurmond proud, called a "Bengal tiger" by a prosecutor who engineered an all-white jury to make sure the "Crip founder" found San Quentin. While Arnold cozied up to the Bush and Kennedy clans, Tookie read dictionaries in solitary, wrote letters to gang kids in LA, and became that most dangerous of political beings: a Black leader in racist America.

In one of his final interviews he said, "So, as long as I have breath, I will continue to do what I can to proliferate a positive message throughout this country and abroad to youths everywhere, of all colors or gender and geographical area, and I will continue to do what I can to help. I want to be a part of the, you know, the solution."

Now another tragedy, along with the murders of Albert Owens, Yen-I Yang, Tsai-Shai Chen Yang, and Yu-Chin Yang Lin, has taken place because Stan Tookie has been put to death. But the tragedy is not theirs to bear alone.

Tonight children are being born to mothers without health insurance, in neighborhoods politicians don't enter without SWAT teams, news cameras, and latex gloves. The political class has already branded these kids as human waste. But many of them could have found another path, because Stanley Tookie Williams would have been there to intervene in their lives and show another way.

Now it's up to those of us who stood with Tookie to keep on pushing. This is Schwarzenegger's "mission accomplished" moment for his right wing, pro-death base. But his "mission" will fail. He is part of a 21st century set of rulers who have repeatedly shown, whether in Baghdad or New Orleans, that they are unfit to rule. Their brutality will be met with resistance in the tradition of Nelson Mandela, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Leonard Peltier, George Jackson... and Stanley Tookie Williams.

Dave Zirin is the author of "What's My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States." Read more of his work at


A Barbaric End to a Barbaric Life


Steve Lopez

Los Angeles Times,0,6640967.column?coll=la-home-headlines

December 14, 2005

In an odd way, the most disturbing thing about watching a man die by lethal injection is how discreetly death creeps into the room.

No sudden jolt, no snapping of the neck at the end of a rope, no severed head.

The inmate gets a shot, he closes his eyes, he sleeps.

The room where Stanley Tookie Williams was killed Tuesday morning is set up like a theater, with neat rows of spectators sitting or standing on risers to view the execution.

Late Monday night, as one of 39 witnesses, I was ushered past dozens of guards and prison officials and into the viewing area a few feet from the octagonal death chamber.

Before us in the stuffy little auditorium, the curtains were opened, Williams was led in by guards, and the midnight show began — a dark, sinister, medieval drama in an archaic prison.

Never having witnessed an execution, I had tossed my name into the ring of potential spectators in order to see precisely what we're all a party to in a state that sanctions capital punishment. And now here I was, watching the clinical, calculated procedure used by the state of California to kill a man.

I watched the executioners struggle to tap a vein, digging into Williams' arms for minutes that seemed like hours. He was calm, if exasperated by the delay. Splayed out on his back and secured with tape and restraints, he lifted his head to study our faces, and he mouthed goodbyes to supporters who shared these close quarters with the relatives of his victims.

There was no apparent sign of suffering on Williams' part when the lethal injection did its duty. He lay motionless for several minutes before he was declared dead and the curtains were closed, show over.

"The state of California just killed an innocent man," three of his supporters shouted in unison.

That struck me as an insult to the families of Williams' victims. Of all the things Williams might have been, he wasn't innocent, and watching him die made me feel no differently about the man.

His victims, all four of them, were shotgunned as if it were a cheap thrill for Williams. And as one of the first Crips, he started something that destroyed everything in its path, bringing genocide to neighborhoods on top of all the other problems.

Williams was a tough guy in prison too, spending years in solitary confinement for his mayhem behind bars before he took a different tack. His anti-gang books and speeches from death row were great gestures, but the Nobel Peace Prize nominations were preposterous, and the marketing of Williams as a hero was offensive.

If he were truly redeemed, he would have taken responsibility for the murders, he would have rejected the duplicitous code of honor among those who refuse to tell what they know, and his dying words would have been a call for the dismantling of the gang he started.

Those who tried to cast Williams as a martyr, including the usual Hollywood rabble, once again picked the wrong man to carry the banner against the death penalty. They made a cause of Tookie Williams as others have done with Mumia Abu Jamal, the Philadelphia cop killer and death row inmate whose claim of innocence is pure fiction, despite the celebrity bestowed on him.

And yet, watching Williams put to death Tuesday morning by agents of the government — his execution sanctioned in a country where godliness and virtue are synonymous, even as torture and execution are defended — made me all the more certain that capital punishment is barbaric.

Though I don't question Williams' guilt, no one can dispute that across America, class, race and money figure prominently in the circumstances of crime and the quality of legal defense. Since 1973, in fact, 122 death row inmates have been exonerated or granted new hearings. A better poster child for abolishing the death penalty is No. 123, whoever that might be.

Twelve U.S. states no longer use capital punishment, and the possibility of a mistake is one of the reasons 40 countries have abolished the death penalty since 1990, including Mexico, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Senegal. In 2004, the United States followed only China, Iran and Vietnam in the number of executions.

Coming down the death row pike in California is a violent killer named Horace Edwards Kelly, whose wicked crimes are not in question. But he has been diagnosed as severely mentally ill, if not retarded, and was virtually tortured as a child.

Should we feel just as good about killing Kelly as we're supposed to feel about killing Williams? Will the premeditated and clinical execution of a feeble-minded man make us more civilized, more humane or any safer? Is life in a cage not enough to satisfy our puritanical beliefs or lust for blood?

Apparently not. Modern as we are, we still live by the law of an eye for an eye — as long as it doesn't get too messy.

The needle is perfect. He closes his eyes, he's gone.

It's much easier to handle that way. Not just for the person put to death, but for us.