With his appeals exhausted, former Crips gang leader turned anti-gang crusader Stanley "Tookie" Williams was put to death Tuesday (December 13) morning. He was 51. Despite pleas from stars including Snoop Dogg and Jamie Foxx and howls of protest from hundreds of supporters gathered outside San Quentin prison, the burly Williams was strapped to a gurney and injected with a lethal mixture of drugs. He was pronounced dead at 12:35 a.m. PT.
As the execution was taking place, Williams' friend Barbara Becnel and other supporters mouthed "God bless you" and "We love you" and blew kisses to him, according to the Los Angeles Times, with Williams seemingly mouthing words back to them.
Williams' death sentence set off one of the most intense debates about capital punishment in the United States in years, pitting the convicted killer's claims of redemption against evidence that his detractors said clearly implicated the gang leader in the 1981 shotgun murders of a convenience store clerk and a family of three.
In the end, the execution process took longer than usual as technicians struggled for more than 10 minutes to find a vein in Williams' muscular left arm. As the team searched, Williams visibly winced and lifted his head off the gurney several times and, according to the Times, at once appeared to say, "Still can't find it?" Witnesses said his death from the lethal injection took close to 20 minutes.
In the hours before his death, Williams sat quietly with friends and talked on the phone as guards kept a close watch on him. One acquaintance described a scene in which Williams sat handcuffed to a table next to a stack of untouched turkey sandwiches, saying goodbye to friends in a calm, everyday manner. He maintained upbeat on his final day, according to a prison spokesman, and ate nothing but oatmeal and milk on Monday, refusing a special last meal and a spiritual advisor. Williams had no last words before being strapped to the gurney.
Hours before, at 6 p.m., Williams was strip-searched, given a set of clean clothes and placed in a holding cell just outside the death chamber under constant observation by a sergeant and two officers, according to the Times.
He spent the hours before his execution watching TV and reading some 50 letters that arrived Monday from as far away as Italy and Israel, including some from schoolchildren.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a denial of clemency to Williams Monday afternoon, citing the former Crips leader's refusal to apologize for the four murders for which he was convicted more than 20 years ago (see "Schwarzenegger Denies Clemency For Tookie Williams").
Williams was sentenced to death in 1981 for gunning down convenience store clerk Albert Owens, 26, at a 7-Eleven and killing Yen-I Yang, 76, Tsai-Shai Chen Yang, 63, and the couple's daughter Yu-Chin Yang Lin, 43, at the Los Angeles motel they owned. Williams claimed at the time that he was innocent, though witnesses at the trial said the Crips leader bragged about the murders, saying, "You should have heard the way he sounded when I shot him."
Despite the claims from Williams and his supporters that he had been redeemed while in prison — writing anti-gang children's books and being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize — Schwarzenegger wrote, "Is Williams' redemption complete and sincere, or is it just a hollow promise? Stanley Williams insists he is innocent and that he will not and should not apologize or otherwise atone for the murders of the four victims in this case. Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings there can be no redemption."
Williams' advocates said his credibility in preaching to youth about staying out of gangs was unmatched, but the Times said victims' rights leaders painted him as a fraud for his failure to confess to the crimes and refusal to formally cut ties with the Crips by sharing his knowledge of the gang's inner workings with police.
"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?' " John Monaghan, a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney, told the Times.
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.
After Williams was pronounced dead, the Times reported that Becnel and two other supporters of Williams turned toward the media in the witness room and yelled in unison, "The state of California just killed an innocent man!" Lora Owens, the stepmother of one of Williams' victims, appeared shaken by the scene and was embraced by another woman. She told CNN Tuesday morning that despite her desire to see justice done, watching the execution "was not an easy thing to do."
Owens said that even if Williams had apologized, it wouldn't have signaled atonement, and even that "doesn't get you out of a just punishment."
Outside the prison walls, as the crowd was informed that Williams was dead, angry shouts broke out and a man burned an American flag, according to the Times. Speaking to the press, Becnel called Schwarzenegger a "cold-blooded murderer" and vowed to work for his defeat in the next election.
"You can kill his body but you can't kill his spirit," outspoken Williams supporter Snoop Dogg said. "That's one thing that I got from him, that he's spiritually strong and he's intact with God and he's gonna go to his grave with his innocence. That's what he believed in and that's what he stood for. And like he told me, if his innocence is going to be the death of him, so be it."
Snoop said he visited Williams last week and that his memories will be of a "humble, kind, loving individual that is so inspiring, so educational, so wise. I was moved and intrigued by meeting him and getting to know him and support him, and that's why I'm gonna continue to push and support his legacy."
This story was originally posted at 8:16 a.m. ET on 12.13.05