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State Supreme Court Refuses Bid to Reopen Williams Case

The death row inmate's fate now rests with the governor. His execution is set for Dec. 13.

December 01, 2005|Henry Weinstein and Jill Leovy | Times Staff Writers

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday turned down a longshot bid by defense lawyers to reopen the case against Stanley Tookie Williams, pushing the four-time convicted murderer one step closer to his Dec. 13 execution date.

The ruling shifts the focus back to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has scheduled a closed-door meeting at his Sacramento office Dec. 8 to discuss Williams' request for clemency. The governor has virtually unlimited discretion to commute Williams' sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole or to let the execution go forward.

Because Williams' convictions have been thoroughly reviewed by local, appellate and federal courts, the California Supreme Court ruling Wednesday increases the likelihood Schwarzenegger will have the final word on the fate of Williams.

The court ruled on a 4-2 vote, with justices Marvin Baxter, Ming W. Chin, Carlos Moreno and Kathryn M. Werdegar voting to deny the defense request, and Chief Justice Ron M. George and Associate Justice Joyce L. Kennard voting to grant it. The one-sentence order contained no explanation.

Defense attorney Verna Wefald of Pasadena had filed a motion last month, seeking information about ballistics and crime-scene evidence, and about witnesses who testified against Williams in return for immunity or other benefits, in an effort to show that his conviction was unconstitutional.

The motion was based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision obliging prosecutors to turn over all exculpatory evidence to defendants, and on a 2003 California law enacted in the aftermath of the Los Angeles Police Department's Rampart corruption scandal to make it easier to investigate when police are suspected of framing suspects.

Nathan Barankin, spokesman for California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, whose office opposed Wefald's motion, said he was pleased by the outcome. "The court reached the correct conclusion. The extraordinary relief Williams sought is reserved only for those cases that have legal merit; his didn't," Barankin said.

Wefald said the decision was "very disappointing, particularly because you don't know why they turned you down." She said she was encouraged that two judges "voted our way." While she would not say what her next move will be, Wefald made it clear that she will file more legal actions. "This is not the end of the case, not by a longshot," Wefald said.

A bevy of religious, political and entertainment figures -- from South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu to Bianca Jagger -- are urging the governor to grant clemency to Williams, who has been on death row for 24 years, because of anti-gang activities, including books and speeches, that he has undertaken in the past decade. Virtually every day brings a new event on Williams' behalf, including a public reading of Williams' books at the Los Angeles Public Library on Wednesday by actor Jamie Foxx and rap artist Snoop Dogg.

The hastily organized event started an hour late and was interrupted midway through by a phone call from Williams himself. He called Barbara Becnel, the writer who brought prominence to his case, who walked onstage to hand the cellphone to Foxx.

"Stan, it's Jamie! How are you, my brother?" Foxx said into the receiver, then held up the cellphone to the microphone so that the death row inmate could address the crowd.

"I'd like to thank all you youngsters," said the cellphone voice through a haze of static, causing a ripple among the teenagers from several schools clustered in the front rows.

"I am honored, truly honored, and regardless of what happens to me, whether I am alive or executed, I know you all will remember me," Williams said.

Foxx handed back the phone, then turned to the crowd. "If that don't move you, I don't know what it takes," he said.

Law enforcement leaders, including Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton, victims' rights groups and families of those murdered, have said the execution should go forward, citing Williams' lack of remorse and seminal role in gang violence.

Williams has been on death row for more than two decades for the 1979 shotgun slayings of Albert Owens, a clerk at a Pico Rivera 7-Eleven; and Yen-I Yang, Tsai-Shai Chen Yang and Yu-Chin Yang Lin, who were shot to death 11 days after Owens at their Vermont Avenue motel.

Williams has apologized for founding the Crips, a gang that has wreaked havoc around the country, and urged youths to shun gang life. However, he has steadfastly maintained his innocence in the slayings. In response to criticism that he could not be redeemed because he has not admitted culpability for the slayings, Williams wrote in his autobiography: "I will never apologize for capital crimes that I did not commit -- not even to save my life."

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