If all goes according to procedure, Williams will not struggle as prison officers strap him to the injection table, connect the monitors that will record the final beats of his heart and insert the needles through which lethal chemicals will flow into his arms, once massive from lifting weights.
FOR THE RECORD:
Death penalty —An article in Saturday's California section transposed two of the drugs the state uses to carry out an execution by lethal injection. The article should have stated that pancuronium bromide paralyzes an individual, and potassium chloride stops the heart.
Nothing is left to chance. The choreography has been refined over the course of 11 executions at San Quentin since 1992 and hundreds before that. The smallest detail — including the dose and combination of chemicals that will sedate Williams, paralyze him and cause his death — is set forth in a 43-page document, San Quentin Operational Procedure No. 770.
Indeed, as the governor ponders clemency and as final appeals are readied, the steps laid out in Procedure 770 already are being taken. The long walk it prescribes for Williams — co-founder of the Crips street gang and convicted murderer of four people — began Oct. 26, when acting Warden J.D. Stokes appeared at his cell and read him the execution warrant.
Since that day, prison officials have been dismantling the life that Williams has known since he arrived on death row in 1981, and seeking to desensitize him to his impending death. The prison chaplain has visited Williams to "assess his spiritual and emotional well-being," as the rules dictate, and his "attitudes or thoughts on death and dying."
Williams was moved, in shackles, to a cellblock at the north end of the turn-of-the-century prison by San Francisco Bay. San Quentin houses 649 condemned inmates, but the 68 in "North Seg" — the original death row — have, in some ways, the best location. Cells are larger than most, inmates have their own exercise yard, and they can mingle on the open tier.
A team of officers began watching Williams around the clock Thursday, logging his activity at 15-minute intervals. Unusual behavior must be reported to the warden.
In 1967, Aaron Mitchell, condemned for the murder of a Sacramento police officer, ranted that he was Jesus Christ and slit his wrists on the night before his execution.
With his life perhaps measured in days, Williams does get some privileges. He can receive more visitors than usual. Celebrities, friends and reporters have come calling.
"The inmate and the visitor(s) may briefly embrace or shake hands at the beginning and end of the visit. No other physical contact will be allowed," Procedure 770 says.
Williams' lawyers have additional access but are limited to bringing "one pen or pencil, one note pad, necessary legal materials." There will be "constant visual observation" by guards.
On the third day before an execution — today — the chamber will be closed to anyone not cleared by the warden. The lieutenant in charge of the chamber controls the keys.
The chamber is in a self-contained unit at San Quentin. It has two holding cells, in case two executions are scheduled for the same day. There is an officers' area and a place for witnesses to stand. The unit is cleaned and sanitized daily.
On Sunday, the lieutenant must inventory the equipment and chemicals. Outdated items must be replaced immediately.
On Monday, the 5,500 inmates at San Quentin will stay locked in their cells.
It falls to prison officers to carry out the ultimate punishment, and they enlist the help of the condemned. "Our process begins with us interacting with the inmate," said Lt. Vernell Crittendon, a San Quentin officer who has witnessed all executions since 1992.