Eyewitness to an Execution

Dec. 12, 2005

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has turned away Wlliams' final appeal to the Supreme Court. It was Williams' last chance, and not a good one at that. It's night now and protesters are gathering. You can see ferry boats out in the bay.

Working here is difficult. A narrow road leads to the east gate of San Quentin, and it is choked with reporters, cameras and satellite trucks. The police are enforcing the no parking rules, forcing some reporters to park a mile away and walk back in.

When there are this many people all trying to use cell phones, it gets hard to find a signal.

It is cold and gray here on the San Francisco Bay. Getting colder. San Quentin is like a yellow castle -- gothic prison architecture with enormous buttresses.

Jesse Jackson has been here all day. He walked with a group of protesters across the Golden Gate Bridge, then went into the prison for one last visit with Tookie Williams. I've seen Jackson in many places, Chicago, Los Angeles and now here in San Francisco.

There's always a scrum of reporters around him straining to hear what he has to say. He came out of the prison just as the announcement was released that Gov. Schwarzenegger had denied clemency. Jackson held sway with many cameras. He said, "I'm obviously very disappointed that the governor has missed a moment to choose life over death, missed a moment to choose redemption over revenge." He is often poetic, and easily quotable.

Jackson went back inside after hearing clemency was denied. He came out when it was nearly dark and said he had been the one to tell Williams.

There have been just a scattering of protesters so far. One man carries a sign that says, "Jesus taught redemption, not revenge." Another, "Jesus Walks 4 God."

The road is closed now, but we expect it to open in a few hours and fill with protesters.

There are a couple of reporters here who have witnessed executions before. They have nothing good to say about it.

I am supposed to go to the west gate, no later than 9:30 p.m. to go through security, and witness the execution.

Dec. 12, 2005

They were playing Celine Dion singing a Christmas song in the newsstand at Burbank Airport this morning. Frank Sinatra cheered the ticket counter while a woman walked through the terminal wearing a Santa hat. I was catching a plane to Oakland on my way to San Quentin to watch the execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams.

Yesterday the California Supreme Court turned down a handful of last-minute appeals. His lawyers said they had a new witness who could help his case. More appeals are likely to be filed today, and of course, everyone is waiting to hear whether Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will grant a last-minute reprieve.

More legal appeals are likely to follow today to the federal appeals court, maybe even the U.S. Supreme Court.

My office sent me a list of appearances I have to make today: "World News," "Nightline," a one-hour radio special. I have to go through security at the prison no later than 9:30. The execution is set for 12:01 a.m. I'm expected to appear live on television at 1:30 a.m., and again at 4 a.m. for "Good Morning America."

A good friend of mine in the Los Angeles bureau sent me the account written by a man who volunteered to witness an execution in Oklahoma. I think it was in 1999.

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