SAN QUENTIN — Stanley Tookie Williams, whose self-described evolution from gang thug to antiviolence crusader won him an international following and nominations for a Nobel Peace Prize, was executed by lethal injection early today, hours after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to spare his life.
His death was announced at 12:35 a.m.
Despite persistent pleas for mercy from around the globe, the governor said Williams was unworthy of clemency because he had not admitted his brutal shotgun murders of four people during two robberies 26 years ago.
After the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request for a last-minute stay Monday evening, the co-founder of the infamous Crips street gang -- who insisted he was innocent of the murders -- became the 12th man executed by the state of California since voters reinstated capital punishment in 1978.
With its racial overtones and compelling theme -- society's dueling goals of redemption and retribution -- the case provoked more controversy than any California execution in a generation, and became a magnet for attention and media worldwide.
A long list of prominent supporters -- as disparate as South African Bishop Desmond Tutu and rapper Snoop Dogg -- rallied to Williams' cause.
But in a strongly worded rejection of Williams' request for clemency, Schwarzenegger said he saw no need to rehash or second-guess the many court decisions already rendered in the case, and he questioned the death row inmate's claims of atonement.
Williams, the governor said in a statement, never admitted guilt, plotted to kill law enforcement officers after his capture, and made little mention in his writings of the scourge of gang killings, which the statement called "a tragedy of our modern culture."
As night descended Monday, about 1,000 demonstrators who gathered on a tree-lined street leading to the gates of San Quentin State Prison endured frosty temperatures to protest the execution.
Joan Baez sang "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" as speakers urged participants to keep fighting. Small clumps of people in scarves and gloves held candles and sang hymns, while others wandered off alone, gazing into the bay.
There were small, scattered protests around the state, including a candlelight vigil Monday night in Leimert Park.
A few death penalty supporters also turned out at San Quentin. Scuffles and shoving matches broke out on occasion, but no serious incidents were reported.
Behind the prison's thick walls, Williams passed his dwindling hours quietly, visiting with friends and talking on the telephone while under constant watch by guards.
An acquaintance described him sitting at a table, handcuffed, next to untouched turkey sandwiches, bidding goodbye to friends in an ordinary, everyday manner.
A prison spokesman said Williams was calm and upbeat, though he ate nothing but oatmeal and milk all day, refusing the privilege of a special last meal. Williams also declined a spiritual advisor.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said he met twice with Williams, and together with the inmate's friend Barbara Becnel, delivered the news that the governor had denied clemency.
Williams smiled "as if he expected it," Jackson said. He said Williams again denied his guilt, and said that he thought "his baggage as a Crip was on trial more than for the four murders."
In recent statements, Williams has expressed a philosophical attitude about his own death. Fred Jackson, 67, who works with Internet Project for Street Peace, Williams' gang intervention project, said the inmate struck that tone in a phone conference with an Oakland support group Sunday. "He said he doesn't fear death -- he doesn't fear what he does not know," Jackson said.
At 6 p.m., Williams was strip-searched, given a set of clean clothes and placed in a holding cell steps from the death chamber under nonstop observation by a sergeant and two officers.
Officials said he spent the evening watching TV and reading some of the roughly 50 letters that arrived today from as far as Italy and Israel -- including some from schoolchildren. Many of them said they were praying for him.
Nearby, the injection team began its final preparations in the prison's converted gas chamber, ensuring that the required needles, tubes and chemicals were in place.
Williams' son, Stanley Williams Jr., who is in High Desert State Prison serving a 16-year sentence for second-degree murder, will be notified in person of his father's death by a chaplain and mental health specialist, prison officials said.
The younger Williams is in isolation for disciplinary problems, and would not normally have access to any news source.
Five members of the murder victims' families were at the prison, although it was not clear how many witnessed the execution. Williams, who earlier said he didn't want to invite anyone to observe "the sick and perverted spectacle," had five witnesses, including Becnel and members of his legal team.
Officials designated a total of 39 witnesses, including 17 media representatives.