Tuesday, December 13, 2005

December 13, 2005

...turning a monster into a martyr...

Last Meal: Williams had nothing but oatmeal and milk all day, refusing the privilege of a special last meal.

The skinny: Williams was executed by lethal injection for four 1979 Los Angeles-area murders that he denied committing.

More skinny: On Wednesday, February 28, 1979, around 4 a.m., defendant Stanley Williams and a companion were in one car traveling with the co-defendant and another companion. They were running low on gas and decided to rob a store. They stopped at a 7-Eleven market at 10437 Whittier Boulevard in Whittier and all four entered the market. The attendant was sweeping the parking lot and was herded into the store by the defendant and one of the companions. While one of the companions emptied the cash register drawer and took $120, Williams took the victim into the back room, told him to get on his knees and then shot him twice in the back with a shotgun.

On Sunday, March 11, 1979, at about 5:30 a.m., Williams, accompanied by another man, broke down the door and entered a hotel in Los Angeles and shot to death a 76-year old man, his 63-year old wife and their 43-year old daughter. He took about $50 in cash and left.

Williams and Raymond Washington co-founded the Crips, a street gang, in 1971.

The trial and the jail-time...the early years: Williams, convicted and sentenced to death in 1981, maintained that he was railroaded by witnesses who lied in exchange for leniency in their own criminal cases, by a faulty ballistics test, and by a prosecutor who removed three African Americans from the jury and told jurors that seeing Williams in court was like observing a Bengal tiger in a zoo.

After the jury read their guilty verdict Williams, according to transcripts, looked to jurors and mouthed: "I'm going to get each and every one of you motherf------."

He remained a violent man during his early years in prison, assaulting inmates and guards and spending six years in solitary confinement, from 1988 to 1994. But as he later described it, during that period he began reading widely and reflecting on his life, and resolved to prevent gang violence.

New Tookie: Williams taped a message from prison in April 1993 that was broadcast to Los Angeles gang members at a "peace summit.'' With the help of Barbara Becnel, a writer he met in prison who became his champion, he started work on eight books for children that were published in 1996 as a series called, "Tookie Speaks Out Against Gang Violence.'' He followed with "Life in Prison'' in 1998 and a memoir, "Blue Rage, Black Redemption,'' in 2004 and was working on two more books before his execution. He spoke regularly from prison to youths and educators, and posted a model "peace protocol'' for gangs, which supporters say was widely used, on his Web site in 2000. "Redemption,'' a television movie starting Jamie Foxx in a sympathetic portrayal of Williams, aired in 2004.

Legal Machinations: State and federal courts rejected each of his appeals, although federal judges described the evidence as less than airtight, and a three-judge federal panel said he might be a worthy candidate for clemency.

Last Minute Machinations: Despite persistent pleas for mercy from around the globe, the governor earlier in the day had said Williams was unworthy of clemency because he had not admitted his brutal shotgun murders of four people during two robberies 26 years ago. After the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request for a last-minute stay Monday evening, the co-founder of the infamous Crips street gang — who insisted he was innocent of the murders — became the 12th man executed by the state of California since voters reinstated capital punishment in 1978.

In a strongly worded rejection of Williams’ request for clemency, Schwarzenegger said he saw no need to rehash or second-guess the many court decisions already rendered in the case, and he questioned the death row inmate’s claims of atonement. Williams, the governor said in a statement, never admitted guilt, plotted to kill law enforcement officers after his capture, and made little mention in his writings of the scourge of gang killings, which the statement called "a tragedy of our modern culture."

Leading up to: Behind the prison’s thick walls, Williams passed his dwindling hours quietly, visiting with friends and talking on the telephone while under constant watch by guards. An acquaintance described him sitting at a table, handcuffed, next to untouched turkey sandwiches, bidding goodbye to friends in an ordinary, everyday manner. A prison spokesman said Williams was calm and upbeat, though he ate nothing but oatmeal and milk all day, refusing the privilege of a special last meal. Williams also declined a spiritual advisor.

At 6 p.m., Williams was strip-searched, given a set of clean clothes and placed in a holding cell steps from the death chamber under nonstop observation by a sergeant and two officers. Officials said he spent the evening watching TV and reading some of the roughly 50 letters that arrived Monday from as far as Italy and Israel — including some from schoolchildren. Many of them said they were praying for him. Nearby, the injection team began its final preparations in the prison’s converted gas chamber, ensuring that the required needles, tubes and chemicals were in place.

Williams, who earlier said he didn’t want to invite anyone to observe "the sick and perverted spectacle," had five witnesses. Officials designated a total of 39 witnesses, including 17 media representatives.

He also did not request a sedative before the execution, though one was available.

As journalists waited, "Monday Night Football" played on a small TV. Others flipped through the press package prepared by the San Quentin Press. It opened with three pages of pictures of the young victim, followed by pictures of his dead body, lying in a pool of blood next to empty Pepsi cans. On another page that addressed Williams' Nobel Prize nomination, the booklet explained that over 140 nominations are submitted each year and that former nominees have included Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini.

Last words and such: During the execution, the inmate’s friend Barbara Becnel and other supporters mouthed "God bless you" and "We love you" and blew kisses to Williams. Williams also seemed to mouth statements to Becnel. The entire procedure took longer than usual. The execution team took about 12 minutes to find a vein in Williams’ muscular left arm. While the personnel were probing, Williams repeatedly lifted his head off the gurney, winced visibly, and at one point appeared to say: "Still can’t find it?"

After Williams was pronounced dead, 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!"

Factoids: Williams was the...

59th murderer executed in U.S. in 2005
1003rd murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
2nd murderer executed in California in 2005
12th murderer executed in California since 1976

As night descended Monday, about 2,000 demonstrators who gathered on a tree-lined street leading to the gates of San Quentin State Prison endured frosty temperatures to protest the execution while a few motorists shouted from their car windows, "Kill him." Joan Baez sang "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" as speakers urged participants to keep fighting. Small clumps of people in scarves and gloves held candles and sang hymns, while others wandered off alone, gazing into the bay. Some sang "We Shall Overcome," although a girl sitting on top of a trailer said, "I don't believe that. I'm not singin'.

A few death penalty supporters also turned out at San Quentin. Scuffles and shoving matches broke out on occasion, but no serious incidents were reported.

A portrait photographer, attended by a pair of assistants, had set up a street side studio where he was shooting demonstrators who posed in the lotus position against a white backdrop. "This is beautiful, absolutely beautiful," he said. Next to him, a small group of men were clustered around a banner that said "QUEERS AGAINST EXECUTION." A man selling hot chocolate was being pursued by a man with a "SAVE TOOKIE" sign, shouting "You fascist bastard."

Outside the gates of San Quentin as midnight approached, speakers urged calm. There was a moment of tension when a Williams’ friend, Fred Jackson, told the crowd, "It’s all over." Angry shouts broke out. A woman sobbed on someone’s shoulder.

A Native American man on the other side of the street held a large upside-down American flag with a white swastika painted in the blue field of stars. He was shouting at the "white maggots" who had defiled his land, who had oppressed and enslaved his people. He yelled at the blond news anchors below him, "You're all immigrants. This is my land you've been poisoning for the last 500 years." He lighted the flag on fire as a black woman told him he shouldn't do that, that he should have more pride in this nation. He responded that it was time for a "true indigenous people's revolution." Then the white picket fence he was holding onto broke and he fell down the small embankment. Then the people he'd been arguing with lifted him up and asked him if he was OK. "Yeah," he said. "I'm OK.".

Williams’ son, Stanley Williams Jr., who is in High Desert State Prison serving a 16-year sentence for second-degree murder, will be notified in person of his father’s death by a chaplain and mental health specialist, prison officials said. The younger Williams is in isolation for disciplinary problems, and would not normally have access to any news source.

No capital case in the state had stirred such national and international attention since Caryl Chessman -- like Williams, an author of books from Death Row -- was executed in the gas chamber in 1960 for rape and kidnapping.

In a major surprise: The execution of convicted murderer Stanley (Tookie) Williams in California outraged many in Europe.

In Graz, Schwarzenegger's hometown, local Greens said they would file a petition to remove the governor's name from the southern city's Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadium. A Christian political group went even further, suggesting it be renamed the "Stanley Tookie Williams Stadium."

Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni, called it "a sad day" and said the city would keep Williams in its memory the next time it celebrated a victory against the death penalty somewhere in the world. Rome's Colosseum, once the arena for deadly gladiator combat and executions, has become a symbol of Italy's anti-death penalty stance. Since 1999, the monument has been bathed in golden light every time a death sentence is commuted somewhere in the world or a country abolishes capital punishment. "I hope there will be such an occasion soon," Veltroni said in a statement. "When it happens, we will do it with a special thought for Tookie."