As the battle over whether to spare the life of Crips co-founder and convicted murderer Stanley Tookie Williams grows, prison officials have initiated an unusual counterattack against a man who supporters believe has turned his life around behind bars.
The people who have watched over Williams for two dozen years are questioning whether he is truly redeemed, saying he is still calling the shots from death row for the Crips, one of the nation’s most notorious gangs.
The corrections department this month posted a news release on its website about the Dec. 13 execution. It gave biographical information about Williams, as well as a narrative about his crimes.
In 1979, Williams shot and killed four people during two robberies in Los Angeles.
“By 1994, having firmly entrenched himself as the leader of the Crips at San Quentin, he wielded his power as his lieutenants and other minions were dispatched to carry out his objectives,” the release says.
Daniel Vasquez, who served as warden at San Quentin from 1983 to 1993 and wrote a letter supporting clemency for the last death row inmate executed, said he had never seen such an inflammatory statement in a news release from the prison.
“It’s like they’re trying to drum up business for death row,” he said.
The paragraph was removed a day after it was posted, following a call from Associated Press, but a San Quentin spokesman, speaking on behalf of the corrections agency, went even further in a subsequent interview.
“When you look at the totality of what has been occurring, that leads me to seriously question this man of peace,” said Vernell Crittendon, who has worked at the prison nearly 30 years, regularly interacts with Williams and said he felt obligated to correct the inmate’s public image. “I’m concerned that possibly this marketing that’s going on ... leads the public to hear the words, but not to see that sleight of hand.”
Williams, 51, has gained international acclaim for writing children’s books about the dangers of gang life.
He has received several Nobel Prize nominations and has attracted a cadre of celebrity supporters, including actor Jamie Foxx, who played Williams in a television movie, actor-activist Mike Farrell and rapper Snoop Dogg, who is scheduled to appear at a rally Saturday outside the prison.
Williams’ death by lethal injection next month promises to be the highest-profile execution in California since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, and a fight over clemency will end at the governor’s desk.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has not spared the life of anyone on death row, has not yet said whether he would schedule a clemency hearing.
Crittendon cited a number of disciplinary infractions over the years, including several fights in the 1980s. Williams’ most recent rule violation was battery on an inmate in 1993.
Supporters of Williams called the allegations ridiculous.
“What troubles me about the devaluing of Stan’s work and its impact on many low-income youngsters ... is they’re saying, ‘We don’t care if Stanley Tookie Williams could help another 5,000, 10,000 or 100,000 kids,’ ” said Barbara Becnel, who serves as the inmate’s spokeswoman. “Some lives mean more than others.”
When contacted about Williams’ alleged ongoing gang activity, Los Angeles Police Department spokeswoman April Harding said there was no evidence of his gang leadership.