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Tookie Williams Is Executed

DEATH WATCH AT SAN QUENTIN

The killer of four and Crips co-founder is given a lethal injection after Schwarzenegger denies clemency. He never admitted his guilt.

December 13, 2005|Jenifer Warren and Maura Dolan | Times Staff Writers

Lora Owens said she did not expect the execution to end the ache over losing her red-haired stepson, Albert, who was killed with a shotgun at the age of 26 while working at a Pico Rivera 7-Eleven late one February night in 1979. But watching the killer take his last breath, she said, might help her "let it go" just a bit.

Advocates for clemency had argued that Williams had unmatched credibility as a messenger urging youths to say no to gangs.

But law enforcement officials and victims' rights leaders portrayed Williams as a fraud whose influence on would-be gangsters was overblown.

Prosecutors said the absence of a confession, and Williams' refusal to formally cut ties with the Crips by sharing his knowledge of gang tactics with police, disproved his claim of rehabilitation.

"What kind of message does that send to young children, when somebody like Mr. Williams, who supposedly has their attention, tells them, 'Don't snitch, don't talk to police, don't tell people who was involved in a crime?' " said John Monaghan, a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney.

As Schwarzenegger weighed his decision, attorneys for Williams spent the weekend hunting for a court that might issue a stay.

On Sunday, the state Supreme Court turned back arguments that his trial was fundamentally unfair in part because prosecutors had failed to disclose that a key witness, Alfred Coward, was a violent ex-felon. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and finally the U.S. Supreme Court followed suit Monday.

After the governor rejected clemency, lawyers asked Schwarzenegger for a stay on the basis of three witnesses who they said had come forward just this week with exculpatory information. But Schwarzenegger again delivered a rebuff.

Just before 9:30 p.m., Williams lawyers filed another petition, citing a fourth purported witness who claimed other inmates tried to recruit him into a scheme to frame Williams. The governor denied that, too.

Conceding defeat, Pasadena lawyer Verna Wefald, part of the clemency team, reiterated late Monday that she considered Williams an innocent man.

Born in New Orleans, Stanley Tookie Williams III was named for his father but raised by his mother. Hoping to escape poverty and crime in Louisiana, the family moved to South Los Angeles in 1959.

He spent his youth as a delinquent, rebounding in and out of Central Juvenile Hall. In his writings, he admitted that he was a megalomaniac who beat, robbed and shot at the innocent.

By the 1970s, Williams was viewed as one of the more menacing toughs in South Los Angeles, weighing 300 pounds with biceps measuring 22 inches.

In a move he said he regretted more than any other, he helped launch the Crips -- originally called the Cribs -- and began terrorizing the streets.

On Feb. 27, 1979, he and three cohorts smoked cigarettes laced with PCP and, armed with a 12-gauge shotgun and a .22-caliber handgun, set out on a late-night search for a place to rob, according to court documents.

They wound up at the 7-Eleven where Owens, a father of two and Army veteran, was working the overnight shift. Owens was shot twice in the back.

Less than two weeks later, Williams broke down the door at the Brookhaven Motel and killed the motel's owners, Taiwanese immigrants Yen-I Yang, his wife, Tsai-Shai Chen Yang, and their daughter, Yu Chin Yang Lin, who was visiting.

The two robberies netted $220.

In 1981, a jury in Torrance convicted Williams, landing him on death row. Initially his conduct was disruptive: "I gave this place hell," he acknowledged in an interview.

While in solitary confinement, however, he began a transformation, Williams said. At first he read voraciously -- the Bible, the dictionary, philosophy, black history -- and struggled to understand his past.

By 1992, Williams was a changed man, he said, deeply remorseful for the bloody rampage the Crips had perpetrated across America -- and for the gang life that lured in one of his two sons.

In 1994, Williams left solitary confinement and declared himself a champion of peace.

With the help of Becnel, he wrote a series of books warning youths away from violence and brokered gang truces in Los Angeles and New Jersey. Last year, his life became the subject of a TV movie, "Redemption," starring Jamie Foxx, and his imposing appearance gradually gave way to a graying beard and spectacles.

As the night drew on, dozens of people gathered in Leimert Park in Los Angeles to oppose the execution. But the speakers who addressed them focused more on healing crime in black communities than on Williams' plight.

"We have to understand," said African American activist Eric Wattree, 53, speaking to a mostly black crowd early in the evening, "this is our failure taking place here."

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Times staff writers Dan Morain and Steve Chawkins in San Quentin and Jill Leovy, Lisa Richardson, Greg Krikorian, Louis Sahagun and Carla Hall in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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Stanley Williams

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