Video: Tookie Williams

updated 11/28/2005 1:49:28 PM ET 2005-11-28T18:49:28

Rapper Snoop Dogg rallied high school students to support clemency for Stanley Tookie Williams, cofounder of the Crips, one of the most violent and notorious street gangs. 

Williams has spent 24 years on death row for murdering four people.  Despite the verdict, Williams insists he‘s innocent. 

In what could be his final days, Williams and his supporters are now pleading with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to spare his life. 

Supporters say Williams changed during six years in solitary confinement at San Quentin.  Since then, according to his petition for clemency, he dedicated his life to doing whatever he could to end gang violence and to warn others of the errors of the path he had followed. 

From jail, Williams has written nine books educating children on the dangers of joining gangs.  He also speaks from death row to children and educators about gang life by also starting the Tookie Patrol for Peace, which he builds as a strategy for peace and reconstruction in the community.

The California law enforcement officials are pushing for the execution to go ahead.  L.A. D.A. Steve Cooley, Police Chief William Bratton and some relatives of Williams‘ victims are opposing clemency.

Reverend Jesse Jackson, founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition met with Tookie Williams at San Quentin yesterday.  And Rusty Hubbarth is an attorney and vice president of Justice for All, a victim‘s rights group.  Both men talked to MSNBC-TV's Dan Abrams about the issue.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

DAN ABRAMS, ABRAMS REPORT HOST: All right, Reverend Jackson, I understand you met with Tookie Williams.  Is he hopeful that he‘s going to get clemency?

REV. JESSE JACKSON, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: Well one, he declares his innocence and says that the reason he did not apologize to the families that that would be incrimination.  He feels he‘s been wrongfully convicted with incompetent counsel, never had a jury of his peers, no sufficient evidence of blood evidence or fingerprints that he did it, so he declares innocence. 

I am rather convinced that he deserves a fair trial with competent counsel.  And at this point, killing him without adequate information would be a bad deal.  You know the Senate committee here in California has formed a commission on fair administration of justice for fear that more...

ABRAMS: But Reverend Jackson, look, rearguing his case in terms of his innocence, is not going to get him clemency.  I mean it‘s just not...

JACKSON:  ... may be clemency or it may be a reprieve.  I was here two years ago when Kevin Cooper was accused of killing and three hours before death, because information had not been admitted was in fact admitted, his life was spared and so...

ABRAMS: Right.

JACKSON: ... in substantial information then really does matter.  You raise other question about if one does redeemable things, should that give them some spare time...

ABRAMS: That‘s the only thing I think is going to save his life, I‘ve got to tell you.

JACKSON: Well I tell you, I think that life without parole, those gives one the chance to be redeemed and to make a contribution, whereas death in fact takes away all those possibilities.

ABRAMS: Rusty, look, I don‘t want to reargue the guilt or innocence part of this...

WILLIAM RUSTY HUBBARTH, JUSTICE FOR ALL: That‘s not our job here today. 

ABRAMS: Right.

HUBBARTH: That was the job of the Ninth Circuit and the United States Supreme Court, which has repeatedly denied Tookie any further relief.  It isn‘t a question of any procedural...

ABRAMS: So let‘s focus on the issue of clemency, all right.  Clemency is basically the governor‘s power to say even in a death penalty case I think that this person‘s life is worth saving.  And the argument from his supporters goes like this.  He has served a lot of time on death row. 

He has been trying to encourage gang members not to join gangs.  He‘s been writing books along those lines.  He‘s been helping to keep people out of gangs.  He‘s the kind of guy if you keep him in prison for life anyway, who can be helpful to have there. 

HUBBARTH: Well clemency is a discretionary function.  There is no right to clemency.  And you could make a sympathetic argument, as various people in this conversation have done before in Texas, for any murder that‘s there.  But the bottom line remains that four people are dead at this person‘s hand.  And that jury of his California peers sentenced him to be executed, a sentence that is reserved for the most heinous crimes in the codebooks. 

He is guilty.  And the California authorities say that up until approximately 10 years ago, he was still running the Crips from prison.

ABRAMS: Do you think that it should ever matter, Rusty?

JACKSON: ... people have been released from death row who were convicted not by a jury of their peers, convicted without substantial evidence, convicted without competent counsel...

HUBBARTH: That‘s not our job.  It‘s the court‘s job to look at that.

ABRAMS: But I got to tell you, I also think it is the weakest argument looking at this case in particular, Reverend Jackson, it is the weakest of the arguments that‘s going — to save this guy‘s life.  The strongest argument is not his innocence.

JACKSON: Well I think there are two issues here.  One is wrongful conviction.  It is an issue for him, (A), and but (B), I think the issue of can one be redeemed, can one make a contribution and turn one‘s scars and one‘s errors into being redeemable.  Clearly, he has made that contribution. 

HUBBARTH: Four dead people rises above the level of a personal error and if he wants to leave a legacy that may have been some benefit, then a legacy would be worthy of respect, but not some perception that he has redeemed himself and risen above the crime that put him on.

ABRAMS: Wait.  Hang on.  Hang on.  Rusty, no one‘s talking about rising above.  The question is whether he should be spared the death penalty and instead get life in prison without parole? 


JACKSON: ... since there is so much reasonable doubt..about these killings and profile, the Senate committee in California is forming a commission on studying the fair administration of justice.  Fair administration of justice is an issue here and therefore why not grant him a reprieve until that committee...

ABRAMS: If the courts do that...

HUBBARTH: ... there is no grounds for a reprieve.

ABRAMS: Look, if the courts do that, Reverend Jackson, you know look, then this is a non-issue.  If the courts step in and then they don‘t need the governor at least for now.  They can say look, we‘ve got a reprieve from the courts.

The question is, assuming the courts don‘t do that, which I have to tell you it does not look like the courts are going to do, although as you point out, in death penalty cases, very often they will err on the side of caution and say you know what, let‘s postpone it again.  Let‘s delay it.

Let‘s make sure everything was done properly.  But if that‘s not going to happen, it is going to be in the governor‘s hands and the only way that this man‘s life is going to be spared is going to be I think based on the governor saying I think he‘s done so many good things that he deserves another chance.  And Rusty, I guess you‘re saying that it doesn‘t matter to you.  I‘m not criticizing this.  I‘m asking it as a question.  Are you saying that it simply shouldn‘t matter what the person has done in prison? 

HUBBARTH: No, it does not matter.  And the governor has the ability to uphold the verdict of the people of California as opposed to a sympathetic argument or as we had unfortunately in Texas reprieves being granted based solely on political pandering.  And that happened twice during the ‘90s in the state of Texas.  And it‘s abhorrent that these factors can take precedence over the will of the people.  This man left four people dead, bottom line.  There‘s no question.

ABRAMS: Final word Reverend Jackson.

JACKSON: That is a conclusion subject to much error.  And the fact is it was not a jury of his peers (A)...

ABRAMS: Let‘s be clear.  No one is entitled to a jury of their peers.  They‘re not.

JACKSON: There was not a black on that jury.  That is a factor in fair administration of justice.

ABRAMS: It‘s not legally, it‘s not...Not legally it‘s not, Reverend Jackson. 

JACKSON: How can we ignore the racial profiling in our culture?

ABRAMS: Because the bottom line is if we do it one way, we‘re going to have to do it the other way.

HUBBARTH: And this isn‘t a question of racial profiling.

ABRAMS: Hang on a sec, Rusty.  Hang on.  Hang on a sec.  If you are going to start counting how many blacks are on each jury, you‘re going to have start counting how many whites are on each jury and you‘re going to have to start doing it in every case.  And so then the argument goes every time there‘s a black man on trial, we got to start counting how many blacks are on the jury. 

It‘s not going to happen that way.

JACKSON: We know now that gender and race do matter and juries should be of one‘s peers.  That is a factor in this.

Competent counsel is a factor in this.  Substantial information — why did Kevin Cooper get let off?  Brought in information that has not been allowed in before?

ABRAMS: Reverend Jackson gets the last word.  I‘ve made my point on this pretty clear I think.  Reverend Jackson and Rusty Hubbarth, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it.

Watch the 'Abrams Report' for more analysis and interviews on the top legal stories each weeknight at 6 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV.


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