Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will hold a private hearing at his Sacramento office Dec. 8 to consider whether to grant clemency to convicted murderer Stanley Tookie Williams, co-founder of the Crips street gang.
Margita Thompson, the governor's press secretary, said Schwarzenegger's decision to hold the private meeting with lawyers representing Williams and the families of his victims did not indicate which way he was leaning on whether to commute Williams' sentence from death to life in prison without possibility of parole.
"The governor reviewed the material in the case this week," Thompson said late Friday. "He decided the best route is a private clemency hearing, so he can hear directly from counsel."
Prosecutors are urging that Williams be executed by lethal injection as scheduled on Dec. 13 for the killings of four people during robberies in 1979. Williams' lawyers say he should be granted clemency because of his work as an anti-gang activist during his incarceration on death row.
Last weekend, a peaceful multiracial crowd including religious leaders and rapper Snoop Dogg jammed a street outside San Quentin Prison to urge that Williams' life be spared. His lawyers have also submitted what they said were signatures of 32,000 people supporting Williams' petition for clemency.
Williams, 51, has denied he committed the murders and has asked the California Supreme Court to reopen his case, contending that he was wrongly tied to the crimes through shoddy forensics. The court has not ruled on his petition.
The governor decides clemency requests on a case-by-case basis and is not required to hold either public or private hearings on an inmate's request, Thompson said.
She said that after thorough study of the materials presented to him, the governor rejected the only two previous requests he had received from death row inmates seeking clemency.
Last year, Schwarzenegger denied a hearing of any kind for convicted murderer Kevin Cooper. But Cooper's execution was later stayed by a federal appeals court.
In January, the governor referred the clemency request of murderer Donald Beardslee to the California Board of Parole Hearings and decided against clemency on the recommendation of the board.
Thompson said that under state law, Beardslee's case had to be referred to a public hearing by the board because Beardslee had been convicted of felonies twice previously.
Williams had been convicted of a felony once previously, so the governor had the option of a private hearing, a public hearing or no hearing at all, Thompson said. She said he decided that a private hearing was most appropriate.
On Wednesday, Williams' attorneys asked the state Supreme Court to grant them access to a broad array of trial evidence in an effort to show that Williams' conviction in the four murders had been unconstitutional.
"Discovery must be granted to avoid an egregious miscarriage of justice," Pasadena attorney Verna Wafeld wrote in her request.
She is seeking information under a 2003 California law enacted in the aftermath of the Los Angeles Police Department's Rampart corruption scandal. She said she was looking for ballistic and crime scene evidence, witness records and medical evidence that might show that Williams was forcibly drugged while in jail awaiting trial.
In response to an earlier defense motion, Deputy Atty. Gen. Lisa J. Brault said Williams had been provided with appropriate material through the court discovery process.
Prosecutors are required to turn over anything that might help a defendant prove his innocence.