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Debating the defense of 'Tookie' Williams

Actor Farrell and talk show host Sliwa discuss fate of Crips founder
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Some big-time Hollywood stars right now are doing all they can to stop the execution of California convicted killer Stanley Tookie Williams. 

But  many are wondering whether it is going to be enough to sway Arnold Schwarzenegger in signing a clemency appeal and getting him off the case. 

There has been a great deal of attention paid to this case not because of what Tookie Williams did in his distance past, but what he's been doing recently, going out and actually telling others not to follow his lead and turn their lives around. 

On Friday's 'Scarborough Country,' actor Mike Farrell, best known as 'B.J. Honeycutt' on 'MASH,' and a Willliams supporter, joined MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, along with Guardian Angels founder Curtis Silwa, to discuss the case and whether Williams should be put to death.

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

JOE SCARBOROUGH: Mike, if people have not been following this case closely, can you give them background not on what Tookie Williams did that got him on death row, but what he's been doing over the past 10, 15 years, as far as talking to young people, telling them don't do what I did; take a different path?

MIKE FARRELL, ACTOR:  Sure.  Stanley Williams grew up in South Central Los Angeles.  He was at the -- at the effect of circumstances in life there.  He formed a gang that is now known widely as the Crips.  He behaved very badly.  He was a criminal, as he now admits.  He behaved extraordinarily badly, brutally, violently. 

The Crips grew.  Stanley was considered a threat, I think, by police, who wanted him off the streets.  He was arrested, tried and convicted of four murders, four brutal murders for which he's always claimed his innocence.  And he was convicted, as said, sentenced to death. 

He was quite an extraordinarily uncooperative prisoner for the first few years he was in prison.  He was put in the hole, in solitary confinement and spent a number of years there.  And all he had -- or all he was given initially was a Bible. 

And during the process of these years, he went through a period of introspection, asked for, in addition to the Bible, a dictionary.  He taught himself to read.  He found a deep faith and determined to make up for the things he had done -- to the degree, best degree he could, make up for the things he had done in his life that were so inappropriate and antisocial.

And, since that time, for the last 13 years, I believe, he has been a very articulately outspoken opponent of gangs, the gang life.  He has written a series of books for grade school children, telling them just what you said, Joe, to stay away from drugs, stay away from gangs, stay in school, learn about caring about themselves, becoming productive citizens.

He wrote a book for junior high school and high school kids about destroying the myth, dispelling the myth that going to prison is a good thing that earns you your manhood or your womanhood.  He wrote a very powerful and empowering, I think, autobiography on which the movie "Redemption" was based. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, again, the focus of this is, again, telling others, Curtis, not to follow in his path.  Obviously, there are a lot of people who support the death penalty.  And they support the death penalty, Curtis, as you know, because they believe it will save lives. 

But what if you have got a guy on death row that changed 12, 13 years ago, and is actually doing things to stop others from getting into gangs and killing more people?  Do we go ahead and put him to death anyway?  Or do we believe that there is such thing as redemption and let him keep preaching his message of peace?

CURTIS SLIWA, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Sure, there is redemption, but what about the remorse?  Four people were executed.  Do you know their names?  Do you know their families? 

No, of course we don't, because we are spending all this time focused on the killer Tookie.  And if he had that Bible in his hands, the New Testament says, remorse.  Beg for forgiveness.  This man has claimed he never killed those four.  He's has heard Johnnie Cochran-style defense lawyers, dream teams, come together, try to collect evidence, go back into court.

And he's been rejected.  Now, if he were to show to remorse, if he were to apologize for these executions, coldblooded, that he committed years ago, I might give it a second thought.  But because he's written children's books?  Because he has said creating the Crips was a bad thing?

Hey, I'm from the inner city.  I do my work in the inner city.  I knew the Crips were bad.  I didn't have to, understandably, read that in a book.  I could see them as uzi-toting, dope-sucking, psychopathic killing machines.  So, it is nice that he renounces that.  But he's like Dr.  Frankenstein.  He created this monster.  And look at all these monster youth who are around the nation now literally launching siege attacks on inner city neighborhoods and causing mayhem and destruction.

And he wouldn't even apologize for the four executions that he's responsible for. 


FARRELL:  Well, yes.  There's a significant question as to whether or not he's responsible for those killings, first of all.

The trial was extraordinarily faulty.  And Stanley has always maintained he did not do them.  He maintained so before, during and after the trial and consistently for all these years, before and during and after his extraordinary transformation.

So, he has apologized, and he has shown remorse, and he has reached out for the behavior that he acknowledges.  As to the question of the murder of those people, he has consistently claimed he didn't do it and cannot, therefore, apologize or ask for clemency on the basis of a crime that he says he didn't commit. 

Now, neither you nor I were there, Curtis, so I don't suppose you know any better than I do about whether he committed these crimes.  But the point is, he has made an extraordinary change in his life.  And the work he has done in the dozen years plus has had a serious impact on the lives of young people, who have been steered away from the very kind of life that you're condemning.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... Curtis, ... go ahead and respond to Mike's suggestion, again, that Tookie Williams should be granted clemency by Arnold Schwarzenegger because of what he's done over the past 13 years. 

SLIWA:  Well, you know, celebrity like Mike Farrell, Jamie Foxx, they are well intentioned, I think hopelessly naive, about this.

But then Snoop Doggy Dogg, he's a Long Beach Crip.  He throws gang signs on his MTV-BET videos.  He himself beat a 20-year-to-life rap on a drive-by shooting that he was accused of committing.  And he has been one of the prime-time supporters of giving clemency to Tookie. 

Well, now, wouldn't Tookie be denouncing Snoop Doggy Dogg, who basically promotes the Crip lifestyle and gangsterism and gang-banging across the nation?  So, there seems to be a bit of a disingenuousness here.

No.  I think, if Tookie were to actually apologize and remorsefully say, I did the wrong thing in executing these four innocent people, it's the worst possible thing you can do, I might consider that.  But I would suggest, between now and Dec. 13, when he is sent to the gas chamber in San Quentin, he make a lot of videos.  And maybe we can distribute them around the country.  And maybe it can do something to suppress the outrage he created initially called the Crip gang, which has spread malaise and destruction across this nation. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Mike, you know a lot of Americans, even though America has grown increasingly conservative over the past 10, 15 years, on the issue of the death penalty, you even have evangelical leaders like Pat Robertson and other conservatives starting to voice concerns about the death penalty. 

And you're starting to see a movement back of people saying, hey, you know what?  Maybe we are putting people to death that aren't guilty after all.  Now, all that being said, there are still people who look at a Hollywood star like you or Jamie Foxx and say, oh, gee, they are hopeless elites.  They don't understand how dangerous it is in our cities or in Middle America. 

What would you say to those people tonight who say, hey, you know what, this case is different; this really is a man who has turned over a new leaf; he deserves to live? 

FARRELL:  The people who have expressed their support for clemency for Stanley Williams are Nobel laureates, legislators, religious leaders, people from all over the world and all over the country. 

And, mostly, the most important ones, as far as I'm concerned, are the children who have been impacted, children in the disadvantaged areas who has been impacted positively by Stanley's work and by his writings and by his outreach and by the extraordinary degree of the impact of his Peace Project. 

So, in spite of what Mr. Sliwa says, the fact is that Mr. Williams' transformation has very clearly been demonstrated, consistently and beautifully, I think.  And the fact is, if he is going to be committed to life in prison for the rest of his life, he's not -- without possibility of parole -- there's no damage that he can do to anybody.

And what he can do is continue to do the good work that he has been doing for the last dozen-plus years and provide the example for the young people today, who very much need it, of somebody who can show them-somebody with street credibility, if you will, who can show them the right way. 


FARRELL:  Somebody who is not slobbering for blood.

SCARBOROUGH:  Mike, let me ask you another question to follow up, again, because I can hear people, again -- and I say in Middle America.  That's where I grew up. 

And I know what my dad, sitting in his chair watching the show tonight, is saying.  He's like, yes, well, maybe he's influenced people over the first 12 or 13 years, but I think that Sliwa guy has got it right in saying, look at all the death and destruction he's caused by starting the Crips. 

I mean, if there's a balance sheet out there, a lot of people would say, well, he's probably ended up causing the deaths of a lot more people than saving the lives of these people over the past 12 or 13 years.  What do you say to critics on that score? 

FARRELL:  I guess, Joe, if you believe in redeposition, if you have faiths, if you believe in the possibility of human transformation, then you have to ask yourself whether or not that means anything.

And it seems to me it does.  It means a great deal to people of religious.  It means a great deal to people of faith.  When somebody makes a visible, obvious positive change, that is something that I think we ought to treasure.  And we in this country, in my view, we should not have a death system at all.  We should have life in prison without the possibility of parole.

But, in this particular situation, what we can do is demonstrate that change, transformation, doing good, making something out of your life really has a positive impact, and it is valued by society.  And if the governor grants clemency in this case, what he will be doing is giving those kids that message.  And I hope he does it.

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Curtis, I do support the death penalty, but I believe in redemption.  Tell me, if I support Tookie, again, having a stay of execution, how do I have it wrong? 

SLIWA:  You have it wrong.

Look how many minutes we have spent talking about Tookie.  We don't even know the names of the four victims that he executed.  I searched the 'L.A. Times' story.  They love this guy.  They worship him.  They put him on a pedestal.  They might as well as deified him.  And I said, gee, but who did he kill?  What are the names?  Have we even mentioned it?  There were three Asian-Americans and one Caucasian.  And, to this moment, we do not even know their names, because they're out of sight, out of mind.

Do you know they nominated this guy for a Nobel Peace Prize?  But, then again, Yasser Arafat, the baby killer, actually got one.  So, I guess this is a good qualification.  You kill people, you eventually can win a Nobel Peace Prize.