Tookie Williams: Gang Founder Versus Nobel-Nominated Peacemaker

A California governor has not granted clemency since Ronald Reagan spared a prisoner in 1967. Since the United States reinstated capital punishment in 1976, 1,002 inmates have been executed while 230 have been granted clemency. But most of those came when former Illinois Gov. George Ryan commuted the sentences of 167 death row inmates, citing an "arbitrary and capricious and therefore immoral" process.

California is a state that favors the death sentence, with 648 condemned inmates on death row. Eleven inmates have been executed since 1977, when the Legislature reinstated capital punishment. During his two years in office, Schwarzenegger has denied clemency twice despite the inmates' claims of mental illness, innocence and good behavior behind bars. Though some pundits have speculated that Schwarzenegger -- who's reeling from the defeat of four ballot measures he backed in a November special election, and has seen his popularity drop in the polls -- could grant Williams clemency to win favor with liberal voters, it would outrage his conservative Republican base.

While his supporters and opponents have loudly voiced their opinions about whether he deserves clemency, Williams has remained subdued in what may be the last days of his life. Over the phone, he has thanked his supporters at rallies and in interviews for their efforts, but is reluctant to talk about the execution. Gray-haired and bespectacled, Williams today appears to be a less menacing figure than the hulking gang founder of the 1970s. He also insists his heart has changed.

"There is no part of me that existed then that exists now," Williams told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "The majority of the detractors and naysayers ... it's difficult for them to recognize the redemption. They've been unable to stop smoking or drinking or lose weight and they're looking at me being in San Quentin and they say, 'This man is on death row convicted of killing four people, how can he be redeemed?' They can't believe that. They don't want to believe that. They would feel lesser about themselves."

Some believe that if Williams is executed, violence will break out in black communities. One Los Angeles-based advocate for the homeless would favor Schwarzenegger postponing Williams' execution in return for a peace treaty to stop violence in the black community.

"I'm willing to stay Tookie's execution for, let's say, 30 days, whatever. You guys decide, provided you stop the young black men from killing each other, in your community," said Ted Hayes. "You do that, [the legacy of] Tookie lives. You don't do that, Tookie dies. Make the blacks -- African-American leadership -- responsible."

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