Gov. Is Asked to Spare Inmate
Attorneys for four-time convicted murderer Stanley “Tookie” Williams asked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday to grant clemency to the co-founder of the Crips, who became an anti-gang activist years after he went to death row in 1981.
Williams, 51, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at San Quentin State Prison on Dec. 13, unless Schwarzenegger commutes his death sentence to a term of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“This petition is about redemption, rehabilitation and hope. It is about a single man, a prisoner for a quarter-century, who found purpose while facing death by execution,” wrote Peter Fleming Jr., the New York-based attorney who is leading the legal team seeking clemency for Williams.
Fleming emphasized that the clemency request is narrowly focused on how Williams changed his life in prison and became a force for good, and not on fighting his convictions or challenging the death penalty.
Williams has steadfastly maintained his innocence in the killings of Albert Owens, a clerk at a 7-Eleven in Pico Rivera and father of two shot to death Feb. 27, 1979, and of three members of the Yang family, who were gunned down 12 days later at the motel they ran on Vermont Avenue.
“This petition is not about the death penalty, or about reversing the judgment of the courts. Nor does it diminish the death of Albert Owens, Yen-I Yang, Thsai-Shai Yang or Yee-Chen Lin, or the suffering of the family members and friends who loved them,” the clemency papers state.
The petition notes that the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, in rejecting a request to reverse Williams’ death sentence, said his “good works and accomplishments since incarceration may make him a worthy candidate for the exercise of gubernatorial discretion.”
Margita Thompson, the governor’s press secretary, said that he would review all the material submitted by Williams’ lawyers and the response expected from Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley.
Cooley spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said, “Obviously, we will be opposing clemency.”
Nathan Barankin, a spokesman for Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, said a representative of the Yang family had said they too oppose sparing Williams’ life.
Lora Owens, Albert Owens’ stepmother, also objects to clemency because Williams has never apologized for the murders. “To be redeemed is to accept responsibility, and he has never done that,” Owens said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “As a matter of fact, he has done the very opposite. He has said it is someone else’s fault, way back to his childhood.”
In his 2004 book “Blue Rage, Black Redemption,” Williams addressed why he had expressed no remorse for the murders.
“I will never apologize for capital crimes that I did not commit -- not even to save my life,” he said.
Williams first publicly came out against gang violence in April 1993, making a videotaped speech from death row renouncing violence, which was played at a peace meeting held by Hands Against Watts. Then, in April 1997, he issued “The Apology,” for his role in founding the Crips, to “the children of America and South Africa -- who must cope every day with dangerous street gangs. I no longer participate in the so-called gangster lifestyle, and I deeply regret that I ever did.”
He later was nominated repeatedly for the Nobel Prize for writing a children’s book series warning youths against joining gangs.
The clemency petition includes a letter of support from Father Gregory J. Boyle, a Catholic priest in Boyle Heights and executive director of Homeboy Industries, said to be the largest gang rehabilitation program in the country.
“As one who for 20 years has worked closely with gang members, it is clear that Stanley Williams has transformed his gang past into a beneficial presence and aid to thousands of children who will feel the gravitational pull toward gangs,” Boyle wrote. “He is surely not the person he was 27 years ago, and if he is granted clemency, his impact on kids, who plan their funerals, and not their futures, will continue.... Redemption is their only hope in reconstructing lives broken by gang violence.”
The petition also includes a letter from a Chicago school official who said Williams had provided advice on the telephone to principals on how to deal with troubled youths. And in an e-mail, an unidentified worker at the school in Central Juvenile Hall in San Bernardino said, “ ‘Life in Prison’ [one of Williams’ books] is the top book in our school library, and your healing work continues daily to bring the dream of an end to gang warfare into reality.”
Schwarzenegger has said in interviews that he believes in the death penalty as “a necessary and effective deterrent to capital crimes,” though Peter Siggins, his legal affairs secretary, has said he would grant clemency if the right case came along. But he has rejected two clemency bids since he took office -- decisions that do not bode well for Williams, said Earl Ofari Hutchinson, an author and political analyst who favors Williams’ bid for mercy.
With his “poll ratings in the tank,” Schwarzenegger “has to solidify his base with conservative Republicans” looking ahead to next year’s election, Hutchinson said.
“How would it look for a governor who desperately needs their solid support to grant clemency to a former black gang leader convicted of multiple murder?” Hutchinson said. “It would not play well with that constituency.”
Boyle said he remained hopeful that Schwarzenegger would do “the right thing. He has the power. The question is whether he has the courage.”
The last California governor to grant clemency to a condemned man was Ronald Reagan, who spared the life of a brain-damaged killer, Calvin Thomas, in 1967.