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Vigilant Widow : Wife of Slain Officer Speaks Out for Victims' Rights

June 29, 1992|JOSH MEYER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the seven years since her detective husband was stalked and murdered by someone he had testified against, Norma Williams has used her grief and anger to become an outspoken advocate for the rights of crime victims and police officers.

This public role has taken her to Sacramento hearing rooms to lobby against assault rifles and to the living rooms of many newly widowed wives of police officers. Last week, it took her to the ornate chambers of Los Angeles City Hall.

There, before a hushed audience, the widow from West Hills clutched a photo of her slain husband, Tom, and spoke out bitterly against a rap musician's new song that talks about killing police officers. Soon after, the City Council approved a measure to suppress the sale of "Body Count," an album by singer Ice-T that includes lyrics such as "Die, die, die, pig, die!"

This week, Williams plans to ask the Los Angeles Police Commission to help her pressure entertainment conglomerate Time Warner Inc. to stop selling the record and to donate all profits to victims rights groups.

Between her steps into the public spotlight, Williams has been engaged in a private crusade: She has kept vigil over every move of her husband's killer as he fights the murder conviction that has sent him to Death Row, near the apple-green gas chamber at San Quentin.

"This is a personal issue between me and him," said Williams, 47. "Until the day I get to sit opposite him in the green room, I won't stop. I'm looking forward to the day that I can witness his execution."

Williams, who was married 17 years, is not the first widow to wage such a crusade. But hers has what seems to her a cruel twist.

Last New Year's Eve, Williams learned that her husband's killer, Daniel Steven Jenkins, was among 14 Death Row inmates who had filed a federal lawsuit seeking the right to impregnate their wives or girlfriends through conjugal visits or artificial insemination. They also want $10,000 apiece in damages, saying their constitutional rights are being violated because they are denied the right to have children. State Department of Corrections policy prohibits California's 300-plus Death Row inmates from having conjugal visits.

"Ten thousand dollars," Williams says, her voice rising in anger. "That was the same amount of money that Daniel Jenkins offered anybody to kill my husband."

"He took away from me and my children. My husband is dead and buried. And now he is saying to everyone that he has a right to procreate more children? How dare he?"

Some legal scholars feel the lawsuit has little constitutional merit. But Williams is taking no chances. She paid her way to Sacramento in April to speak out against the lawsuit at a Senate hearing and is working with state Sen. Edward R. Royce (R-Anaheim) to pass legislation to make conjugal visits illegal for Death Row inmates and murderers serving life without parole.

She also has vowed to take an active role in fighting the suit when it gets its day in court sometime in late July.

"Daniel Jenkins killed my husband because he was afraid of him. Tom is gone, and now I want Daniel Jenkins to be fearful of me," Williams said. "The minute I hear he is trying to reap any benefit, I will fight him. I will forever fight him, tooth and nail."

Jenkins was convicted in August, 1988, of first-degree murder with special circumstances for trying to pay others to kill Tom Williams and, when those arrangements failed, killing Williams himself. Williams, 42, was murdered on Halloween in 1985 as he picked up his 6-year-old son, Ryan, at a Canoga Park day-care center, just hours after giving routine testimony against Jenkins in an armed robbery case. Jenkins pumped eight bullets from a fully automated Mac-10 pistol into the off-duty detective as his son watched.

Like many of her friends in the close-knit support network of police widows, Williams' activism was forged in the crucible of despair and bitterness that followed her husband's murder. Those feelings resurface any time another officer is killed, or when they are threatened, as was the case in the recent riots and in the release of "Body Count," Williams said.

"It brings back everything for her," said her daughter, Susan Snow, 23. "This is her way of fighting back. It makes her feel better, because she is contributing something positive. It helps her keep her sanity."

Williams had a front-row seat in nearly all of the lengthy legal proceedings that led to the conviction of Jenkins and several other men in the murder conspiracy. She listened to an accomplice describe how Jenkins liked to recount how "the detective's body was convulsing with the impact of each bullet."

Williams said that after the trials she feels compelled to try to tip the scales of justice back in favor of crime victims, "so that others don't have to live through what I have."

"Instead of turning the anger inward, I decided I would do something positive," she said. "I wanted to seek dignity for his death. I didn't want him to die in vain."

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