The argument over whether convicted killer Stanley Tookie Williams was a man of peace or a death-row con artist raged on after his execution Tuesday, with supporters announcing they would give him a funeral “befitting a statesman.”
The 51-year-old founder of the bloody Crips gang died by injection at San Quentin Prison just after midnight for the murders of four people in two 1979 holdups, professing his innocence to the very end, even when an admission of guilt might have helped save his life.
His last, best hope was an act of mercy by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. But the governor was unconvinced by Williams’ supporters — several Hollywood stars among them — who argued that he had redeemed himself behind bars with memoirs, children’s books and lectures against the dangers of gang life.
After the execution, Williams’ supporters vowed to continue his work to discourage youngsters from following in his footsteps, and promised another book from writings he left behind.
“If they think they succeeded by killing him in getting people to forget about him, they have done just the opposite,” said Barbara Becnel, his collaborator and most vocal supporter.
Williams declined to make a final statement as he went to his death.
Recalling final moments
He seemed frustrated by the time it took officials to insert the intravenous lines into the former bodybuilder’s muscular arms. At one point, Williams uttered something to the nurse and offered to help, said Steve Ornoski, the warden. About 15 minutes after the process began, he appeared to ask: “You doing that right?”
Williams refused a sedative, said Becnel, one of the witnesses. She said he was “brave and strong and he was everything we believed him to be.”
Other witnesses included Rudy Langlais, executive producer of “Redemption: The Stanley Tookie Williams Story,” a TV movie starring Jamie Foxx.
Joan Baez, who sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” outside the prison, called the execution “planned, efficient, calculated, antiseptic, cold-blooded murder.”
But another one of the witnesses, Lora Owens, stepmother of one of the four people Williams was convicted of killing, told ABC: “I believe it was a just punishment long overdue.”
Criticism from abroad
The execution also drew fierce criticism in Europe, where politicians in Schwarzenegger’s native Austria called for his name to be removed from a sports stadium in his hometown.
“Schwarzenegger has a lot of muscles, but apparently not much heart,” said Julien Dray, spokesman for the Socialist Party in France, where the death penalty was abolished in 1981.
Williams was condemned in 1981 for using a sawed-off shotgun to kill 7-Eleven clerk Albert Owens, 26, in Whittier. Weeks later, he killed Yen-I Yang, 76, Tsai-Shai Chen Yang, 63, and the couple’s daughter Yu-Chin Yang Lin, 43, at the Los Angeles motel they owned.
In denying clemency, Schwarzenegger said Williams had failed to atone for his crimes, and questioned whether claim of redemption was just a ploy. The governor also questioned the effectiveness of Williams’ anti-gang rhetoric.
“It is hard to assess the effect of such efforts in concrete terms, but the continued pervasiveness of gang violence leads one to question the efficacy of Williams’ message,” Schwarzenegger said. “Williams co-founded the Crips, a notorious street gang that has contributed and continues to contribute to predatory and exploitative violence.”
Becnel said she was planning a memorial service “befitting a statesman” for Sunday or Monday in Los Angeles. She said Williams asked to be cremated and have his ashes spread in South Africa. Foxx and rapper Snoop Dogg are expected to attend, she said.
Snoop Dogg, a former Crips member, spoke to Williams by telephone about two hours before his death and talked about the book they planned to write about sharing wisdom among black men — father to son, grandfather to grandson.
“Stanley had the credibility to be heard when speaking out about gang violence,” Snoop Dogg said. “We will remember Tookie for what he stood for in the end, and hopefully, we have brought enough light to his story that others can be influenced and inspired to change their ways as well.”