You've come to an old part of SW Online. We're still moving this and other older stories into our new format. In the meanwhile, click here to go to the current home page.
Supreme Court clears way for execution in December
The race to execute Stan Tookie Williams

By Phil Gasper | October 21, 2005 | Page 2

ON OCTOBER 11, the U.S. Supreme Court declared it would not hear the appeal of Stanley Tookie Williams. That clears the way for the state of California to try to execute its most famous death row prisoner.

The office of California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, a Democrat, wasted no time in announcing that it would seek a December 13 execution date for Williams.

Last February, the Ninth Circuit turned down Williams' request for a new hearing, by a 15-to-9 vote. But the minority issued a blistering dissent, condemning "blatant, race-based jury selection" in Williams' original trial. Now, the new John Roberts-era Supreme Court has also ignored that blatant racism.

In 1971, at the age of 17, Williams co-founded the Crips, which rapidly became one of Los Angeles' most notorious street gangs. Eight years later, with Los Angeles police eager to find any pretext to get him off the street, Williams was charged with four murders. He was convicted and sent to San Quentin.

In prison, Williams began to rehabilitate himself. He left the Crips and spoke out against gang violence. During the 1990s, he wrote a series of award-winning books for children, warning against gangs, crime and prison. This work has earned him a series of Nobel Prize nominations since 2001.

In his original trial, the main evidence against Williams was the testimony of jailhouse informants--who even the Ninth Circuit justices admitted had "less-than-clean backgrounds and incentives to lie in order to obtain leniency from the state in either charging or sentencing." A witness later testified that the Sheriff's Department gave one of the informants the case file on Williams, so that he could learn details about the murders.

None of the physical evidence found at the crime scenes matched Williams. A witness' description of a suspect seen leaving one of the scenes didn't fit him either. A shotgun shell supposedly matched a weapon Williams had bought several years earlier, but that gun was in the possession of a couple facing serious felony charges. After they claimed that Williams had confessed to them, the investigation against them was dropped.

The trial was moved from Los Angeles to Torrance, a predominantly white, conservative area. The prosecutor, Robert Martin, dismissed all African-Americans in the jury pool, and Stan's case was heard by an all-white jury.

In his closing argument, Martin compared Stan in the courtroom to a Bengal tiger in the zoo, and said that "in his environment," he would behave like the tiger in its natural "habitat." California's Supreme Court later censured Martin twice for his racist practices. Death sentences he won in two other cases were overturned because of racism.

After years of inadequate legal representation, Williams now has a top legal firm working on his behalf, which says it has uncovered fresh evidence of his innocence. They will be attempting to get the courts to reopen the case, while simultaneously preparing an appeal for clemency to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But a legal strategy is hopeless without outside pressure. The only thing that can stop Stan's execution is massive campaign around the state and around the world.

For information about what you can do to help, visit on the Web.

Home page | Back to the top