With less than five days to go before his scheduled execution, lawyers for convicted murderer and Crips co-founder Stanley “Tookie” Williams met with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday in a last-ditch plea for clemency.
Schwarzenegger met with Williams’ attorneys as well as prosecutors in a closed-door meeting as an ever-growing crowd of Tookie supporters and death-row proponents congregated outside the Capitol Building in Sacramento.
“I’m not going into this hearing with hope. I’m going to this hearing frightened to death,” Williams’ attorney Peter Fleming Jr. told The Associated Press beforehand. “If we fail as a counsel, a man dies.”
Each side had 30 minutes to plead its case to the governor, who is the only person with the power to grant a death-row inmate clemency. Though the gang Williams helped form went on to become one of the most violent and widespread in the U.S., he’s amassed numerous supporters by spending much of the past 24 years teaching at-risk youth about the dangers of gangs and life on the street. Schwarzenegger aide Margita Thompson told reporters the governor’s decision could come as late as Monday.
Williams is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday at San Quentin State Prison, where he has been on death row since 1981 for murdering four people during two separate robbery incidents two years earlier. The 51-year-old has always maintained his innocence. If granted clemency, Williams would serve life behind bars without parole.
Snoop Dogg, another former Crips member, has been organizing rallies around the state and wearing T-shirts advertising the site SaveTookie.org (see “Snoop Tries To Get Crips Co-Founder Off Real Death Row” ). Oscar winner Jamie Foxx has also spoken out on his behalf, joining in with the legions of others who say the five-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee has undergone a transformation behind bars and should be granted mercy. Foxx was nominated for a Golden Globe for his portrayal of the reformed inmate in the 2004 TV movie “Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story.”
NAACP President Bruce Gordon issued a statement earlier in the week pleading for Williams’ life, saying he was “a weapon in the fight to keep young people out of gangs.”
Williams has written a series of children’s books called “Tookie Speaks Out Against Gang Violence” and has made videotapes that have been shown to members of rival gangs in an attempt to end feuds.
“If Stanley Williams is executed, his death will have a chilling effect on the momentum he has created around the negative impact of gangs and gang violence,” Gordon said. “If he is executed, we will never know what future impact Stanley Williams might have had on society.”
“There are people dying in the streets right now who could be saved by listening to the message of this man,” 17-year-old Jason Stenson, who joined in on the rally outside the Capitol, told the San Jose Mercury News.
Meanwhile, family members of the victims maintain that Williams should die as a result of his actions. Lora Owens, whose stepson died during one of the robberies, told ABC News, “I think [Williams] is the same cold-blooded killer that he was then and he would be now if he had the opportunity again.”
California Assemblyman Todd Spitzer (R-Orange) said Williams should not be let off the hook. “Tookie Williams is the co-founder of one of the most violent street gangs in Los Angeles. He has shown no remorse for the four people he brutally murdered and has offered no apology to the victims’ families,” Spitzer said in a statement. “A jury convicted him and sentenced him to death. It is time that the sentence imposed upon him is carried out.”
If Williams is granted clemency, it would be the first time a California governor has exercised that power since Ronald Reagan did in 1967.