SAN QUENTIN, Calif. – Convicted killer Stanley Tookie Williams, the Crips gang co-founder whose case stirred a national debate about capital punishment and the possibility of redemption, was executed early this morning.
Williams, 51, died around 12:35 a.m. after receiving a lethal injection at San Quentin State Prison, officials said.
The case became the state’s highest-profile execution in decades. Hollywood stars and capital punishment foes argued that Williams’ sentence should be commuted to life in prison because he had made amends by writing children’s books about the dangers of gangs and violence.
In the days leading up to the execution, state and federal courts refused to reopen his case. Monday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger denied Williams’ request for clemency, suggesting that his supposed change of heart was not genuine because he had not shown any real remorse for the countless killings committed by the Crips.
“Is Williams’ redemption complete and sincere, or is it just a hollow promise?” Schwarzenegger wrote. “Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings, there can be no redemption.”
Williams was condemned in 1981 for gunning down convenience store clerk Albert Owens, 26, at a 7-Eleven in Whittier and killing Yen-I Yang, 76, Tsai-Shai Chen Yang, 63, and the couple’s daughter Yu-Chin Yang Lin, 43, at the Los Angeles motel they owned. Williams claimed he was innocent.
Witnesses at the trial said Williams boasted about the killings, stating “You should have heard the way he sounded when I shot him.” Williams then made a growling noise and laughed for five to six minutes, according to the transcript that the governor referenced in his denial of clemency.
Williams was the 12th person executed in California since lawmakers reinstated the death penalty in 1977.
About 1,000 death penalty supporters and opponents gathered outside the prison to await the execution. Singer Joan Baez, actor Mike Farrell and the Rev. Jesse Jackson were among the celebrities who protested the execution.
“Tonight is planned, efficient, calculated, antiseptic, cold-blooded murder and I think everyone who is here is here to try to enlist the morality and soul of this country,” said Baez who sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” on a small plywood stage set up just outside the gates.
A contingent of 40 people who had walked the approximately 25 miles from San Francisco held signs calling for an end to “state-sponsored murder.” Others said they wanted to honor the memory of Williams’ victims.
Among the celebrities who took up Williams’ cause were Jamie Foxx, who played the gang leader in a cable movie about Williams; rapper Snoop Dogg, himself a former Crip; Sister Helen Prejean, the nun depicted in “Dead Man Walking”; and Bianca Jagger. During Williams’ 24 years on death row, a Swiss legislator, college professors and others nominated him for the Nobel Prizes in peace and literature.
“There is no part of me that existed then that exists now,” Williams said recently during an interview with The Associated Press.
“I haven’t had a lot of joy in my life. But in here,” he says, pointing to his heart, “I’m happy. I am peaceful in here. I am joyful in here.”