Few things in our public life can be as noxious as the fashionable cause. At best, it tends to be superficial and ill-considered. At worst, it is simply appalling. Stanley “Tookie” Williams is the fashionable cause of the moment, and he is no exception.
The founder of the Crips street gang, Williams is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Dec. 13 in California’s San Quentin State Prison for four murders he committed 25 years ago. Williams took up writing anti-gang children’s books in prison, and a phalanx of celebrities urge clemency for him, including Snoop Dogg (who beat his own murder rap in 1996), Bianca Jagger, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is meeting with Williams’s lawyers on Dec. 8. The pro-Williams website savetookie.org blares, “Arnold–do the right thing for the children!”
All this agitation is on behalf of a man whose bestial specialty was the close-range shotgun blast. Williams continues to maintain his innocence, making him the least-convincing high-profile murderer since Scott Peterson. Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley has issued a detailed rebuttal to Williams’s petition for executive clemency that should strip off whatever tawdry sheen attaches to this latest fashionable cause.
Williams committed his first murder while robbing a 7-Eleven with three associates in 1979. Williams ordered Albert Owens into a storage room in the back of the store. He made him lie down, then fired two rounds into his back. The barrel of the gun was so close to Owens that the pathologist said one of the wounds was “a near contact wound.” Owens had offered no resistance, and Williams later mimicked the dying Owens with gurgling sounds. The robbery netted $120, or $30 per robber.
Two weeks later, Williams robbed a motel of $100, murdering three people. He shot 76-year-old Yen-I Yang twice at close range. He shot Yang’s 63-year-old wife, Tsai-Shai Yang, in the face. He shot their 43-year-old daughter once in the back and once in the abdomen.
Williams’s attorneys contend that the evidence against him depends on criminals who stood to gain from their testimony. It is true that the associates and accomplices of the murderous founder of a criminal gang won’t be of the highest character. But Williams’s roommate James Garrett and Garrett’s wife, Ester, to both of whom Williams confessed, had nothing serious to gain by their testimony. One of Williams’s accomplices in the 7-Eleven murder testified against him in exchange for a grant of immunity, but his account was corroborated in important respects by other witnesses and by a statement made by another accomplice who didn’t testify because he didn’t get immunity.
Williams himself made a damaging admission to officers interviewing him after his arrest, asking twice if five shots had been fired at the motel, when he had no way of knowing that unless he had done the shooting. A recovered shell at the motel came from Williams’s shotgun, which he bought using his California driver’s license as identification. Shells from the 7-Eleven were consistent with Williams’s gun.
Once in prison, Williams didn’t act like a sensitive soul caught up in the racist conspiracy against him that his willfully credulous supporters now allege, but plotted to kill a key witness against him and escape by murdering two sheriff’s deputies. He has been appealing his case since his 1981 conviction, so People v. Stanley Williams has been nearly as thoroughly adjudicated as the never-ending case in Charles Dickens’s Bleak House of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce.
Williams has indeed seemingly changed in jail. He has put down the shank and picked up the pen. And his anti-gang work may well have done some good. No one should discount the power of redemption. But redemption begins not with fine sentiments and celebrity friends, but with repentance. Stanley Williams is a liar who hasn’t yet taken responsibility for his horrific crimes. He deserves justice, and is scheduled to get it on Dec. 13.