If Stanley Tookie Williams is executed on Tuesday, Dec. 13, poisoned to death by the State of California, his fame will have doomed him. We may well have killed an innocent man without even realizing it.
On the other hand, if California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger grants clemency to Mr. Williams because he has rehabilitated himself, his fame will have saved him, and the crucial question of his innocence will simply fade away.
At a time when more and more Americans are turning against the death penalty because of increasing evidence that innocent people have been executed, we have allowed ourselves to be so bedazzled by the celebrity hype surrounding the Tookie Williams case that one important truth has been ignored: Stanley Williams may be innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted.
Was he truly proven "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt"? A careful reading of Attorney Verna Wefald’s 88-page appeal to the California Supreme Court to reopen the case strongly suggests that Tookie was framed and railroaded in a trial riddled with inconsistencies, contradictions, lack of physical evidence and false stories spun by a parade of informers trying to save their own necks.
As a founder of the Crips gang, he was assumed to be guilty before he was even charged with four murders. He was "The Black Man Rampant," "The Black Bogeyman" and "The Bigger Thomas of South Central Los Angeles." He was convicted by his notoriety, not by the evidence.
According to Atty. Wefald and federal courts that reviewed Williams' case, Williams' 1981 trial for the murder of Albert Owens, a convenience store clerk in Whittier, and Los Angeles motel owners Yen-I Yang, Tsai-Shaic Yang and their daughter Yee Chen Lin, was based on flimsy circumstantial evidence; the fabricated testimony of five informants having "incentives to lie in order to obtain leniency from the state...." (according to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals); and the perjury of at least one police officer.
Physical evidence such as fingerprints and a bloody boot-print could not be traced to Stanley Williams.
Only one shotgun shell was found at the motel. It ostensibly came from a shotgun purchased legally five years before by Mr. Williams, but the gun itself was actually found under the bed of informants James Garrett and his wife Ester. The Browning shotgun shell was sold at only two local stores, one of which, a Big Five, had been robbed of guns and ammunition by Mr. Garrett the year before.
The Garretts were both being investigated for the murder of their crime partner, Gregory Wilbon. This investigation was dropped, according to Atty. Wefald, after they testified that Mr. Williams "volunteered" a confession to them.
Deputy Gilbert Gwaltney perjured himself when he supported Mr. Garrett, by testifying that the informant had a sound alibi at the time his crime partner Wilbon was murdered. Mr. Wilbon's body was so badly decomposed, Mr. Williams' lawyers write, that it was impossible to establish a time of death and thus impossible to establish an alibi.
Another informant also claimed that Stanley Williams had "volunteered" a confession to him—but only after a police officer had left the police file on Mr. Williams overnight in the informant's cell for him to read before he testified the next day, according to Atty. Wefald.
The prosecutor, who had already been censured twice by the California Supreme Court for discriminatory behavior, threw three Black people off the jury, leaving a majority-White jury with few or no Blacks (at least one juror's racial identity is in dispute).
Atty. Wefald's appeal was turned down by the California Supreme Court on Nov. 30 by a 4-2 vote. This is not uncommon, especially in cases that do not involve DNA evidence.
Every appeal to the California Supreme Court made by wrongfully convicted prisoner Gloria Killean was routinely denied for 16 years, until a federal court overturned her life sentence. And Thomas Goldstein filed repeated appeals to the court for 24 years before being exonerated by a federal court.
And the California Supreme Court’s divided vote "indicates the seriousness of the issues that were raised by the motion," Mr. Williams’ attorney Jonathan Harris said.
But the railroading never ceases. The moment the Dec. 13 execution date was announced in November, authorities rushed Mr. Williams to the holding cell next to the death chamber, three weeks before the usual holding period begins.
Now, the ultimate humiliation is being required of Tookie Williams. Like the innocent women at the Salem witch trials, he is being told he should confess in order to save his own life, a Catch-22 if ever there was one. This he refuses to do. He says he will not compromise his dignity and integrity, the most powerful and precious forces in his life today.
One of the most compelling arguments against the death penalty is that we inevitably kill innocent people. Britain abolished capital punishment in 1965 after Timothy Evans, hanged for strangling his young daughter, was later found to be innocent.
Now, new developments like DNA evidence are leading to the release of significant numbers of innocent people from death rows and prisons across the United States, and support for the death penalty is steadily declining.
In 2000, the same year that Illinois Governor George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions in his state, a California Field Poll showed that 73 percent of Californians supported a similar moratorium. The number is probably higher today.
Instead of spending hours agonizing over Tookie Williams' fate (and his own political future), Gov. Schwarzenegger should do the right thing and suspend the executions of all 637 death row inmates immediately.
(Pacific News Service contributor Clive Leeman lives in Ojai, Calif., and writes about human rights issues.)
FCN is a distributor (and not a publisher) of content
supplied by third parties. Original content supplied by FCN and
FinalCall.com News is Copyright 2009 FCN Publishing, FinalCall.com. Content
supplied by third parties are the property of their respective owners.