Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did not just reject Stanley Tookie Williams’ request for clemency, he aggressively attacked the central element of the former gang leader’s case: Williams, he said, had never really reformed.
Over the last decade, Williams had become famous based on his account of how he went from a gang leader to an anti-gang crusader who had written books aimed at steering young people away from crime. That life story was at the heart of Williams’ request for clemency.
Schwarzenegger rejected it entirely, suggesting Williams’ redemption claim was “hollow.”
The governor laid out his case in a five-page statement that was unusual for the length, detail and blunt tone in which it dismissed Williams’ claims. Aides said the statement was largely drafted by Andrea Hoch, Schwarzenegger’s legal affairs secretary, and her predecessor, Peter Siggins. Schwarzenegger announced last week that he was appointing Siggins to a state appellate court.
Aides to the governor, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the governor’s deliberations, said Schwarzenegger was reviewing drafts of the statement as late as Monday morning. It was officially released shortly after noon. He reviewed as many as half a dozen drafts, asking detailed questions, the aides said.
In the days leading up to the deadline, Schwarzenegger had said that he was approaching the decision with “dread” and that deciding another man’s fate was a governor’s most difficult task.
But “there is nothing in the tone of the governor’s decision that suggests it was a close call or agonized over,” said USC law professor Jody Armour.
Instead, Schwarzenegger said there was no question that Williams had murdered four people in 1979. Williams’ repeated refusal to admit that became, to the governor, a powerful factor against clemency.
“Stanley Williams insists he is innocent, and that he will not and should not apologize or otherwise atone for the murders,” Schwarzenegger wrote. “Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings there can be no redemption.”
The evidence of guilt, the governor’s statement said, included testimony from two of Williams’ accomplices, ballistics evidence linking Williams’ shotgun to the murders and testimony from four people that Williams had at different times confessed to one or both murders.
Moreover, he said, after Williams’ arrest, he conspired to escape “by blowing up a jail transportation bus and killing the deputies guarding” it. Although the escape was never carried out, “there are detailed escape plans in Williams’ own handwriting,” the statement said, adding that an escape plan is “consistent with guilt, not innocence.”
Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson said she thought that Williams’ clemency bid was plagued from the start by his position that he would never acknowledge that he committed the four murders.
“I will never admit capital crimes that I did not commit -- not even to save my life,” Williams wrote in his 2004 autobiography “Blue Rage, Black Redemption.” He repeated that position Monday afternoon in a conversation with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Jackson told reporters.
“Tookie wanted to have it both ways -- he wanted to maintain his actual innocence claim so that he would have something to argue in the courts, but he still wanted to claim that he had been redeemed,” Levenson said. “In the end, he lost on both fronts.”
In addition to arguing that Williams’ continued claims of innocence should be counted against him, the governor made a point of quoting the dedication of Williams’ 1998 book “Life in Prison.”
In the dedication, Williams named 11 people, all of whom had been imprisoned or in custody. Among them were Nelson Mandela, the South African anti-apartheid leader; Malcolm X, the black nationalist leader assassinated in 1965; and Angela Davis, the black Marxist professor acquitted of murder charges in 1972.
Schwarzenegger and his aides focused on one name on the list -- George Jackson, the author of “Soledad Brother,” a book about life in prison. Jackson was “gunned down on the upper yard at San Quentin Prison” on Aug. 21, 1971, in a “foiled escape attempt on a day of unparalleled violence in the prison that left three officers and three inmates dead,” Schwarzenegger said.
“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,” the governor said.
Finally, Schwarzenegger discounted the main arguments made by backers of clemency -- that Williams should be kept alive because of the power of his anti-gang message.
“It is hard to assess the effect of such efforts in concrete terms, but the continued pervasiveness of gang violence leads one to question the efficacy of Williams’ message,” the governor’s statement said.
That line drew criticism from Elisabeth Semel, who runs the death penalty clinic at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall law school.
“I don’t think the African American community leaders,” supporting Williams’ clemency bid were “having trouble feeling the impact” of Williams’ message, she said. She added that the governor was being unreasonable in suggesting that “one person, Tookie Williams, has to carry the weight on his shoulders of turning around gang violence in Los Angeles.”
“I don’t think you should lionize Tookie, but even those who are astute enough not to lionize him recognize his message has had a positive influence,” she said.
Aides to the governor have consistently said that he made his decision without regard to politics. Political analysts from both parties, however, said his final decision was the one with the least chance of hurting his chances for reelection.
“The consideration of clemency for Tookie Williams, on a political basis, was always more of an opportunity to do political harm to himself than to help himself politically,” said Kevin Spillane, a Republican consultant in Sacramento.
Spillane and others stressed that a decision to grant clemency would have angered conservatives and that the decision to allow the execution would not have much downside for Schwarzenegger.
Voters elected Schwarzenegger “knowing he was a strong supporter of the death penalty,” said Democratic consultant Bill Carrick. “I don’t think the voters are going to be the least bit surprised by his decision.”
Times staff writer Mark Z. Barabak contributed to this report.