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Williams’ execution nears, debate grows

Halie Johnson

There are less than 13 days for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to decide whether to grant clemency to Stanley “Tookie” Williams, 51, who is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 13.

With each passing day, the momentum builds to spare Williams’ life, creating a political noose around the governor’s neck. Rallies have been held and, according to a report by KGO radio, are aimed at increasing pressure on Schwarzenegger in hopes that he will grant clemency to Williams. Clemency supporters feel the governor’s re-election bid next year could play into his decision.

Williams was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1979 slayings of a convenience store clerk in Whittier, Calif. and three people at a Pico Rivera motel a few days later. During his years on death row at San Quentin, Williams has maintained his innocence.

After a private hearing with Williams’ legal team in his Sacramento office, Schwarzenegger said he would consider granting clemency to Williams. Ronald Reagan, in 1967, was the last California governor to grant clemency to a condemned man. Schwarzenegger is scheduled to meet again with Williams’ lawyer and Los Angeles County prosecutors on Dec. 8.

The petition for executive clemency submitted to Schwarzenegger on Nov. 8 states, “This petition is about life, compassion and grace. It asks, in the name of so many who see this man as a symbol of hope and purpose in their own lives, what message is sent by his death?”

Williams, co-founder and leader of the L.A. Crips, a street gang, was convicted of the four murders in 1981 and sentenced to death. In 1988 he found himself in isolation, otherwise known as “the hole,” as punishment for his behavior with other inmates. During this time, according to the petition, Williams, alone for the first time in his life, looked into himself and found purpose and redemption. He has publicly renounced his prior life and gang violence.

Since then, Williams has been an active advocate against gang violence. In 1993, while still in isolation, Williams developed the idea to create children’s books that would warn of the dangers of gangs. Journalist Barbara Becnel, who was visiting Williams to interview him for a book about the Crips and Bloods, agreed to help on the condition that he prove his sincerity. Williams agreed by videotaping a speech renouncing gang violence that was played as the keynote address at a peace summit held by Hands Across Watts, an organization geared toward promoting a gang truce between the Crips and Bloods. His speech led to a truce between the gangs that remains in effect today, according to HAW.

Williams has written several books since his series of children’s books Tookie Speaks Out Against Gang Violence were published. All the books are aimed at putting an end to gang violence and create peace within the black community. In 2001, Williams was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and has been nominated every year since then. He has also been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature on four occasions.

There are many who do not support Williams, however. Some prison officials as well as the families of the victims feel Williams’ life should end on Dec. 13, as scheduled. One of the biggest advocates for Williams’ execution is L. A. County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley. In a 50-page letter to Schwarzenegger, Cooley writes, “Williams 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 district attorney also included letters from the victims’ families, L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, and Los Angeles police Chief William Bratton-all urging Williams’ death. Prison officials also maintain that Williams is still a gang leader whose “minions” carry out his objectives. Cooley submitted a laundry list of reports of misconduct by Williams while in prison.

Vickie Linsey, a representative of the L.A.-based Cry No More organization, made up of mothers of victims of street violence, said that she grew up in the ’60s and ’70s in the streets of L.A.

“I know all about the Crips and the Bloods, I was there. A lot of the members of our organization find it hard to support Tookie Williams. If there is an ounce of doubt about his guilt, we can’t kill him. Not for his wonderful books, not for the movie about his life or the Nobel Peace nomination, but because there is doubt.”

There are several conflicting reports as to the legitimacy of statements made during Williams’ trial. Several of the key witnesses were allegedly offered immunity in exchange for their sworn testimony, according to The Bakersfield Californian.