November 6, 2005
No Clemency for Tookie

By Debra Saunders

There must be a guidebook in the country's death rows about how to dodge the lethal-injection needle. In Texas, you find God and plead mercy; in the San Francisco Bay Area and other havens for people who think they are enlightened liberals, you find a publisher.

If you write books or poetry, all manner of journalists, authors and do-gooders will turn you into a saint who is doing some good for society. So, having been sent to death row for the brutal slaying of four innocent people during two 1979 robberies, San Quentin Prison's Stanley "Tookie" Williams has no shortage of champions who believe that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger should grant him clemency and spare him his scheduled Dec. 13 execution. Why, the thug-huggers point out, Tookie has even been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Or, as an Agence France Presse headline announced, "U.S. judge sets December date to execute Nobel Prize nominee."

Some background on this Nobel Prize wannabe: In 1979, Williams shot in the back, twice, Albert Owens, a 26-year-old, white 7-Eleven clerk, during a robbery. Shortly after, he robbed a motel and slaughtered three members of an immigrant family, the Yangs.

Williams' lawyers presented an alibi defense that crumbled. Physical evidence supported the prosecution. A jury found Williams guilty, and a court sentenced him to death. His crimes tend to be glossed over -- as happened in "Redemption," a Fox TV movie that bought into the reformed Tookie line. The biopic told the story of Williams' jailhouse conversion, which led him to co-author a line of children's books, "Tookie Speaks Out Against Gang Violence."

As proof, supporters point to what Williams calls "The Apology," posted on a Tookie website. The problem is, the apology is not for killing four innocent people -- one white and three Asian -- but for being a co-founder of the violent Crips gang, which has ruined "the lives of so many young people, especially young black men who have hurt other young black men."

There are some problems with the Tookie hagiography. After Williams ostensibly quit the Crips, he was stabbed by another inmate in what prison officials believed was a fight over who would lead the Crips.

And this is interesting: Williams' lawyers have argued that he had suffered organic brain damage, either when he killed Owens and the Yangs or during his trial, which made him unable to defend himself. It's hard to understand how a brain-damaged man could co-write all those books.

The whole "redemption" line is a joke. As Williams' former prosecutor, Robert Martin, once told me, redemption requires an admission of guilt, facing up to what you did and expressing remorse. Williams has done none of the above, yet newspaper editorial pages (including The San Francisco Chronicle's) and various do-gooders (including some Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals judges) have been pushing for the governor to grant Tookie clemency.

That would turn the whole concept of clemency on its ear. Let me stipulate: While I support the death penalty, I can respect those who oppose it. But I can't respect those who lionize the most violent thugs as if they are prize sages. My advice to the anti-execution crowd -- and I have no doubt it will be ignored -- is to find some poor schlub who killed in a panic and doesn't belong on death row, and seek clemency for that person.

Don't put a cold-blooded killer on a pedestal. Don't denounce a government killing as barbaric while you laud a cold-blooded thug. And don't ask for clemency for a killer who won't fess up to his crimes.

Williams' co-author, Barbara Becnel, told the Los Angeles Times: "What Stan presents is hope that they, too, can change. He is worth far more to society alive than dead."

Wrong. He is worth more to society dead. The message from the Tookie-philes is that you can kill innocent people and be a star. An execution says you can kill innocent people and pay the price.

Copyright 2005 Creators Syndicate

Debra Saunders

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