Video: Time up for Tookie?

updated 12/1/2005 3:41:13 PM ET 2005-12-01T20:41:13
TRANSCRIPT

The clock is ticking on what could be the last days of Stanley Tookie Williams' life.  The man who co-founded the street gang, the Crips, scheduled to be executed in about two weeks for murdering four people.  Williams and a list of celebrities are now pleading with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to spare his life. 

MSNBC's Rita Cosby spoke with Williams from California's death row on Monday and asked him why he should be allowed to live. 

"Well first and foremost, I'm innocent," Wiliams told Cosby. "Secondly, being allowed to live enables me to continue disseminating my positive message to youths and adults throughout this country and abroad.  And you know lastly, being able to live, it would allow me to inevitably prove my innocence."

Williams was convicted of murdering four people in two separate robberies in 1979.  Supporters cite among other things the fact that Williams wrote a number of books including a series educating children on the dangers of being involved in gangs.  He's been nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature four times and for a Nobel Peace Prize.  But prosecutors and the victims' families are hoping the governor will do nothing, saying the jury's verdict should stand. 

On Wednesday, Tookie Williams' attorney Peter Fleming, and Bob Martin, who prosecuted Tookie Williams, joined MSNBC's Dan Abrams on 'The Abrams Report' to discuss the case.

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: All right, Mr. Fleming, let me ask you this.  As a strategic mater, Tookie Williams continues to protest his innocence.  His supporters, many of them are continuing to focus on the fact that they claim that he's innocent.  It seems to me that that is not a particularly strong or smart argument for them to be making because the courts have already said this is moving forward. 

This is now simply a clemency issue with the governor.  Where the reason that the governor, it seems to me, would say I'm going to allow clemency in a case like this is because of the things he's done in his life, not because of actual innocence. 

PETER FLEMING, TOOKIE WILLIAMS' ATTORNEY:  Well there are two answers, Dan.  First, our petition for clemency is based-is not based upon guilt or innocence, although I want to get back to that question.  And I want to be clear what we're asking for.  We are asking for what, in essence is a reduction of sentence from death to life imprisonment without parole. 

When I first met Stanley Williams, we discussed the very issue you have just mentioned.  And I advised him that clearly, a confession, if in fact he were guilty, would act in his favor in terms of a clemency petition.  Tookie Williams looked me in the eye and he said I did not do this. 

If someone were to tell me that clemency depended upon my confessing, I would not confess.  I did not do these crimes.  I believe him.  He continued to say exactly that.  And I believe the trial in which he was convicted was materially flawed.  He did not receive a fair trial.  And that there are lingering doubts at the very least about whether Tookie Williams committed these crimes. 

ABRAMS:  But it seems to me there is something between protesting one's innocence and confessing in a sense that he could simply say you know what, I've decided I'm not going to talk about that particular issue, even though I do continue to maintain my innocence.  But instead he's just -- he's going on and on about his innocence.  And I understand look, he's saying he's innocent.  He want to put the word out there, but if he wants to save his life, as a strategic matter, maybe it's smarter to just simply say nothing about that and simply focus on his deeds. 

FLEMING:  Well you really just struck at the heart of Tookie Williams.  Stanley Williams is a man of firm conviction.  And what you have said may be the smart thing to do.  But for his conscience and for his feelings, he feels anything other than the position he's taking would be disingenuous and false.  And if it costs him -- if it does cost him his life, he is prepared to pay that price. 

ABRAMS:  Bob Martin, how clear is it that Tookie Williams committed these crimes? 

BOB MARTIN, PROSECUTED TOOKIE WILLIAMS:  I think it's absolutely clear, Dan.  The evidence has been looked at by many courts for 25 years.  He's had due process.  I did two habeas corpus hearings...

ABRAMS:  ... but apart from the due process issues, I'm asking you a more fundamental question.  You're a man who has prosecuted a lot of cases.  I'm asking you to tell us, to tell my viewers that based on the evidence that was presented in court, based on the trial he had, you are entirely convinced, no question in your mind that Tookie Williams committed these crimes? 

MARTIN:  There is absolutely no question in my mind.  And there hasn't been any question in any judge's that have looked at the evidence.  What I resent is people saying, as Peter just did, well, the trial was flawed.  How was it flawed?  We had an expert on handwriting where Stanley Williams was going to have an escape attempt and wrote down himself what he was going to do with dynamite and shotguns. 

We have not only a handwriting expert, we have a firearms expert.  We have two friends of his, one, Sam Coleman testified that Stanley was bragging to him about the crimes that he did on the Brookhaven murders.  Esther Williams, another friend of his, he was bragging to her about what he did on the Brookhaven murders.

The evidence in the case is rock solid, has always been rock solid.  And what they've been doing is extra legal.  It's been P.R.  And he's received more publicity probably than any other person ever on death row... 

ABRAMS:  Do you think he's changed?  Do you think he's changed?

MARTIN:  Well, how can he possibly change?  The first thing you do if you are an addict or an alcoholic is admit that you are that.  From that point on you can possibly be rehabilitated.  But he's never admitted that he's a murderer.  He said he's remorseful about what did he in gang banging and what he did to his own people, but he was never convicted or charged with those crimes.  And he may have reached some sort of peace in his conscience with his own God.  That's a very personal thing. 

ABRAMS:  Mr. Fleming, go ahead, a chance to respond...

FLEMING:  Yes, Dan, two things, the court of appeals for the 9th Circuit, which as you know is the highest federal court in California, looked at this case and it said about the evidence that the evidence supporting conviction was comprised of circumstantial evidence and that testimony of witnesses with less than clean backgrounds and incentives to lie in order to obtain leniency from the state in either charging or sentencing. 

ABRAMS:  A lot of cases are like that though. 

FLEMING:  ... This prosecutor was severely criticized twice for racial discrimination in jury selection.  He struck the only blacks on Tookie Williams' jury ... peremptorily and he compared them to a Bengal tiger.  Let me talk about one of the witnesses, the principle witness, Alfred Coward.  Alfred Coward was supposedly a part of this robbery, which resulted in this murder. ... He received complete immunity. 

ABRAMS:  Right...

FLEMING:  But beyond that, beyond that, after he testified at Williams' trial, he was convicted of federal conspiracy, given probation.  He was thereafter arrested for drug dealing ... burglary.

ABRAMS:  So what ... I mean people-they're bad witnesses.  Look, when you're deal with low-lifes, you get low-lifes as witnesses.  I mean that's the fact of every criminal case. 

FLEMING:  Well it may be a fact of every criminal case, but in this situation where all the witnesses received penal benefits, it casts real questions in my mind ... as to the legitimacy of the conviction.

MARTIN:  ...  When you said there were an all white jury, you are absolutely wrong.  Because McClurkin (a juror) ...  we have his death certificate was black. ... Vas Gonzales was Hispanic and a further witness was from the Philippines. 

ABRAMS:  ... The only way that Tookie Williams is going to get clemency in this case is if Arnold Schwarzenegger decides that what he has done in prison has been so important that he deserves to live.  I don't think the debate over his innocence or guilt is going to help him.  But you heard Mr. Fleming's response to that.  Peter Fleming and Bob Martin, thank you very much.  We could talk about this for hours.

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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