California law enforcement officials have launched an unusually fierce campaign to block clemency for Stanley Tookie Williams, co-founder of the Crips, whose impending execution is shaping up as the state's most closely watched death penalty battle in decades.
In arguments both legal and emotional, officials are asking Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to reject pleas from clergy, legislators and entertainers that Williams, who is scheduled to be put to death Dec. 13 for the murders of four people, has redeemed himself by his work on death row to dissuade young people from joining gangs.
Schwarzenegger has almost total discretion in deciding clemency, which would commute Williams' death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
On Thursday, the governor, speaking to reporters in Shanghai, said he had not made up his mind on the Williams case. He described the decision as "part of the job" but one that he approached with "dread."
"It's never a fun thing to do, let me tell you," he said. "This is the toughest thing when you are governor, dealing with someone's life."
When asked whether redemption or mercy would come into play, the governor responded: "I really don't have any guidelines for that. It's a case-by-case situation."
The Los Angeles County district attorney's office Thursday filed its formal response to Williams' clemency petition, declaring that Williams, 51, is a "cold-blooded killer" who has "left his mark forever on our society by co-founding one of the most vicious, brutal gangs in existence, the Crips."
The filing was backed by personal letters from Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, the head of the California District Attorneys Assn., the president of the California Gang Investigator's Assn. and the stepmother and brother of one of the murder victims, all urging the governor to show no mercy to Williams, who has been on death row for 24 years.
Harriet Salarno, chairwoman of Crime Victims United of California, said her group was trying to raise money to bring the victims' families, who are in the Midwest, to California to watch the execution. Williams must "be held accountable for the crimes he committed and the lives he took," and his execution will send out an anti-gang "message that is loud and clear," Salarno said.
Earlier this month, the California Department of Corrections briefly posted a statement on its website contending that a decade ago Williams had entrenched himself as the leader of the Crips at San Quentin.
State Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), among others, expressed anger that the government agency had taken a public position on a condemned man, and the statement has since been removed from the website. On Thursday, Corrections Department spokeswoman Terry Thornton said that there was "nothing sinister" about the statement and that the department, like many organizations, frequently changes things on its website.
On Saturday, a pro-Williams rally outside San Quentin prison will feature rap star Snoop Dogg. In addition, Williams' supporters have scheduled several other rallies and showings of "Redemption," a film about his life starring Academy Award-winner Jamie Foxx.
Williams was convicted of murdering Albert Owens at a 7-Eleven in Pico Rivera in February 1979, and Tsai-Shai Yang, Yen-I Yang and Yee-Chin Lin at a South Los Angeles motel in March 1979.
He has consistently maintained his innocence, and supporters are focusing on his anti-gang work, including several books he has written, since his turnaround on death row.
Schwarzenegger denied the two other requests for clemency he received, one from Donald Beardslee, who was executed earlier this year, and another from Kevin Cooper, who was granted a stay by a federal appeals court hours before he was to be killed last year by lethal injection. His case is still pending.
New York attorney Peter Fleming Jr., Williams' lead clemency lawyer, took some comfort in the papers filed by the district attorney's office Thursday. "Significantly, for the issue which faces the governor, the district attorney does not challenge, and essentially concedes, the basis of our petition -- that for over a decade Stanley Williams has been a force for good and a source of hope for those who live with a sense of hopelessness," Fleming said.
Law enforcement officials, however, have told the governor that they don't believe in Williams' redemption because he has refused to admit that he committed the murders and has declined to participate in "debriefing" sessions with corrections officials about gang members.
Williams has said that even though he formally renounced gang life in 1997, participating in the "debriefing" sessions would make him a "snitch."