Stanley "Tookie" Williams' fight for clemency is a battle between his polar opposite legacies: the co-founder of the notorious Crips gang versus the Nobel Prize-nominated children's book author who warns against the dangers of gang life.
Time is running out for Williams, who is scheduled to be executed Dec. 13 for the 1979 slayings of four people in two separate robberies. California's Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court both have rejected bids to overturn his conviction. His last hope lies with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, met with Williams' lawyers and prosecutors in a closed-door clemency hearing today. If clemency is granted, Williams' death sentence would be commuted to life in prison without parole.
Williams' case has become a cause celebre because his quest for clemency has been championed by Hollywood and recording industry notables such as former "M*A*S*H" actor and longtime death penalty opponent Mike Farrell, rap superstar and former Crip Snoop Dogg, and Academy Award-winning actor Jamie Foxx -- who portrayed the condemned inmate in the 2004 FX television movie "Redemption." Various activists and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have held rallies on his behalf.
Williams and his lawyers continue to insist on his innocence. They say his efforts to steer others away from gang violence show that he deserves to be spared the death penalty.
"This is a life ... whose message has resonated with children, particularly with the people of California," said Peter Fleming Jr., one of Williams' lead attorneys, in a telephone news conference Wednesday. "This is a man who has not only redeemed himself, but he has sent his message of redemption and nonviolence to the people of California and all over the country."
But victims' rights advocates argue that Williams does not deserve mercy because he has not entirely renounced his legacy as a Crips co-founder and has never taken responsibility for the slayings.
"There are some people out there who speak of Mr. Williams like he was a deity, like Jesus Christ," said Jared Lewis, a former police officer and founder of Know Gangs, which offers seminars and expertise on gangs and gang culture. "They prop him up as if he was some sort of hero and he's really not. He's a murderer."
Williams has been on death row at San Quentin State Prison since 1981, when he was convicted and sentenced to death by lethal injection for the slaying of store clerk Albert Owens during the robbery of a 7-Eleven store and the shooting deaths of three members of the Yang family -- Yen-I Yang, Tsai-Shai Chen Yang and Yu-Chin Yang Lin -- who operated a Los Angeles motel.
Since his conviction, Williams has written nine books warning children and teenagers about the dangers of gang life. He's been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times and for the Nobel Prize for literature once. In 1993, he videotaped a message at San Quentin that was shown to 400 gang members, and he helped broker a truce between the rival Crips and Bloods gangs during the first-ever gang summit in Los Angeles. He also has written a "peace protocol" to help rival gangs work out disagreements.
Williams, his supporters say, is a living example of the perils of gang life and can be much more valuable to enforcement officials -- and to impressionable youth -- if he is spared.