December 12, 2005

Tookie must die.

Schwarzenegger denies clemency.

Ah, but he's co-written children's books denouncing gang violence:
[D]espite his anti-gang activism, Williams has consistently refused to take part in a debriefing with authorities to provide them potentially valuable information about the Crips gangs.

Williams was convicted of killing a 26-year-old Los Angeles convenience store clerk in February 1979, shooting him twice in the back with a 12-gauge shotgun while the victim was face down on the floor.

Less than two weeks later, jurors concluded, he shot and killed an immigrant Chinese couple and their 41-year-old daughter while stealing less than $100 cash from their motel.

Personally, I'm opposed to the death penalty, but I can't understand why this person deserves it less than others who don't get clemency. Fame shouldn't be enough. Having famous supporters shouldn't be enough.


Freeman Hunt said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Eli Blake said...

And Schwarzeneggar made the right call.

I also am opposed to the death penalty, but here is my problem with Williams case: He focused on two reasons for clemency: 1) He claimed to be innocent, and 2) He claimed to be 'reformed.'

ON the first claim, not only was there a great deal of evidence to the contrary, but he bragged about the crimes shortly after committing them and during his trial tried to use mental incapacity as a defense. He never claimed to be innocent until much later (and Lord knows, if you go to prison, almost everyone you meet will be 'innocent,' according to them). So not a compelling case for innocence.

Now this gets in the way of the second claim he makes-- that of reformation (which IS a legitimate reason to commute a sentence-- there is a reason it's called the 'Department of Corrections,' instead of 'Department of Punishment.') Reformation begins with contrition, which requires admission. So if he denies being guilty, then he can only be 'reformed' if he is in fact not guilty, which goes back to what I said before-- not a compelling case for innocence.

As I said, I strongly oppose the death penalty myself, but Ann is exactly right on this one.

And does celebrity get you out of jail? Only if you are famous AND rich (like O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake or Michael Jackson).

Freeman Hunt said...

Shouldn't they look for someone more sympathetic to rally around?

He shot someone who was lying helplessly on the floor. . .

Eli Blake said...


I agree that the death penalty should be abolished. However, according to the laws we have now, it hasn't been. And Governor Schwarzeneggar was asked to rule based on two factors: his claim of innocence and his 'reformation.' As I posted a moment ago, neither of those passes close inspection.

And as Governor he is charged with upholding the law, not making it.

Pooh said...

There are plenty of more sympathetic cases out there. Try this one for a start.

Grandma_Jo said...

I, also, do not understand why this man should receive special treatment. His victims had no chance, no time, for redemption. I see no reason to grant this man clemency.

Having said that, there is one aspect to the rhetoric that bothers me. That is, he maintains his innocence, and yet the prosecuter and governor argue that one of the reasons he is not being granted clemency is that he has not admitted his guilt and he shows no remorse. It's awfully hard to maintain innocence and show remorse. It's a logical conundrum.

If he admits guilt, he might be eligible for clemency, if he maintains his innocence, he must die.

Joe Giles said...

It's obvious that the pogrom against children's book authors has begun.

The Drill SGT said...

As I understand it, his most popular book as sold a total of 330 copies. Likely half of them to the Berkeley Public Library and most of the rest to the Santa Monica PL.

He's a cold blooded killer (personally) and guilty of crimes against humanity (the Crips) as well.

I'll lose no sleep over this one.

ALH ipinions said...


I oppose the death penalty as well (in all cases). But I’m not sure how arguing who “deserves it less than others” will advance the cause to abolish this morally reprehensible punishment.

As for “fame” and “[h]aving famous supporters”, these factors are every bit as useful in galvanizing support against this inhumanity as they are in galvanizing support against the inhumanity of starving children in Africa (having Bono and Geldof plead their case has made (and continues to make) a big difference.)

Troy said...

And he is responsible, in some way for a large number of African-American deaths in California and nationwide than any other single person. His gang, his children, and his acolytes have wreaked havoc in the Black community. And there's no telling the murders he personally committed that he didn't get popped for.

His dedication of his book to George Jackson shows his true colors and is literally the nail in his coffin. Who has the pager for the 9th circuit?

MnMark said...

If there's a travesty of justice, it's that this man has been working the system for *25 YEARS* since he murdered those people. How can our system possibly be that far out of whack? How can it take 25 years to work through the appeals?

Before anyone advocates leniency for him they need to have gone to look at the photos of his dead victims, which are posted on the net. This reality, of bloody lifeless forms and a face ripped apart by a shotgun blast is every bit as relevant as whether he wrote a children's book in his 25 year vacation from justice. Imagine the actual scene of what he did, the terror of the victims, his gloating, and then tell me that because he wrote some children's books he deserves leniency. Is that the new standard, then? Give every convicted murderer 25 years to come up with some children's books and then commute the death sentence.

I am so glad Schwarzeneggar did not waver on this.

MnMark said...

Here is a link to a page that has the photos, though be warned they are as gruesome as these things can be.

I don't post that link lightly or gratuitiously. I genuinely believe that you have no real moral basis for advocating clemency if you haven't had the courage to look at the reality of what this man did.

The Drill SGT said...

I was about to say something like:


About time we finally agreed on something. Then I checked and there are two marks. or maybe mark and anti-mark, at least on this issue.

Troy said...

Drill, I did the exact same thing. Will bizarro Mark (for you Superman fans) show up to defend Williams?

Joan said...

Like ElderChang, I found the decision compelling. Like many, many others, I don't understand why this has taken 24 years to finish. I'll be glad when this one falls out of the news cycle.

Pooh said...

Anon, it's possible to be opposed to the death penalty for other than moral reasons. Many, like myself, find the implementation so costly and (at times) arbitrary so as to overcome deterrent benefit.

In that context, Mr. Williams death, while not 'good', is not tragic. As I've mentioned earlier, his is not the case I would choose as the poster child for what is wrong with the death sentance.

Ann Althouse said...

Anon: I hope it's clear why it makes sense for people to oppose the death penalty generally but still think Schwarzenegger made the right decision in denying clemency. Unless the governor is going to give everyone clemency -- which would be single-handedly rejecting the death penalty -- he needs to have some principles about who will receive it. I've read Schwarzenegger's opinion, and I think it is quite sound. If Williams deserves clemency, nearly everyone would. Who wouldn't co-author some children's books if that were an escape from the death penalty? He was convicted of brutally murdering four persons. He's never shown remorse for these murders (because he claims innocence, despite much judicial process), and he has never helped the authorities with the investigations of the terrible gang he founded. If he were given clemency, it would seem that having celebrity friends gets you special treatment, which would be unfair to everyone else.

The Mechanical Eye said...

And I'm suprised so many of you are willing to take the life of someone in order to show that taking the life of someone is wrong.

But this is why the death penalty is necessary - to express society's outrage for the act. That what a perpetrator did was so ultimately wrong that they should pay the ultimate price.

There is also something fundementally unfair about allowing this man fame and life while he so callously threw away the lives of others.

If that 7/11 clerk had raped a 5 year old girl, would you suddenly support his having been shot in the back?

If that had been the case, absolutely not, for it wouldn't have been Tookie's life to take. There is a difference between the legitimate use of violence and involuntary confinment that the state wields versus that of an individual going on his own shooting people who were shot primarly because they stood between Tookie and money he wanted.

The death penalty isn't, and shouldn't be, about simple revenge. It should be rare. But I believe it is a method of justice that should be reserved for the most serious crimes that can be committed against humanity and society.

Sloanasaurus said...

I agree with Pooh, I am not morally opposed to the death penalty, but I think it wastes a lot of government resources.

The main purpose for the death penalty is public retribution (Public justice). I think public justice would be served with the condemed sitting in chains for life with eternal bed sores.

On the otherhand, why do so many liberals pretend to oppose the death penalty....

I would offer that the opposition is not to the death penalty itself but who it is applied to. Liberals view a world that every one is iherently good, who are then corrupted by society or evil people in power. Thus, Tookie's killings were not Tookies fault, they were the fault of the white establishment who are putting him to death.

In contrast, conservatives believe all people are sinners and thus we need rules and institutions to deter and prevent us from sinning.

Joan said...

It seems that Tookie has done some good things while in jail, and they go beyond the oversimplification of "writing a children's book."

ChrisO, if you read Schwarzenegger's statement, you'll see that Tookie's "reformation" has been quite shallow. Boiling it down to "writing a children's book" may be shorthand, but it's not misleading shorthand.

And no, Tookie is not responsible for the heinous acts committed by the Crips over the last few decades. However, if he really were sorry about his gang life, don't you think he would've offered to help the authorities put a stop to all the gang violence that continues? And yet, he has not. Are you now going to argue "mitigating circumstances" to explain away that lapse, just one among many?

Pooh said...

Actually, sloan, the 'moral' component of my disagreement with the death penalty comes specifically from the discriminatory manner in which it is applied. (Economic, not racial per se.) But I see that as a near inherent failing of implementation. Thus the money is better spent elsewhere.

And I think it is dismissive to claim that liberals do not honestly oppose the death penalty on strictly moral grounds. (I do not, but at one point I did).

Joe Giles said...

It seems that if you believe in the death penalty as deterrent, you must give great leeway for leniency when circumstances warrant.

When circumstances warrant. This guy wasn't Raskolnikov.

And pooh on all this hooey about children's books. Madonna writes children's books, and in her case that could be grounds for employing the death penalty, not withholding it.

Eli Blake said...


It is not a contradiction at all.

I and others may personally be against the death penalty, and work to get rid of it.

But we can also appreciate that having taken the oath to uphold the laws of the state of California (which laws include the death penalty and the provision for jury trial and for a jury to recommend the death penalty), he is sworn to be bound by those laws. Now, it is true that they give him the authority to commute the sentence, but he also has a responsibility to do so only when there is a compelling reason to do so, which is the intent of the law. Being governor does not give him the right to simply do as he wishes without regard to the law.

It is possible to be opposed the death penalty and work to get rid of it, but still discharge one's lawful duty, even if that includes using it.

Unknown said...

Mark: "Tookie doesn't deserve to die any more than a non famous person."

Tookie Williams most certainly deserves to die. But that is not the issue. The problem is that he should have died prior to killing the people he did, and arguably, before he spawned the crips.

Had one of his victims, or another person there at the time, killed him as he was attempting any of the murders, there would be no doubt that his death was not only deserved, but a very good thing.

The question we're all dealing with really is not whether Tookie deserves to die, but whether society ultimately has the right to take the life of someone who deserves to die.

Though I do not support the death penalty, I do support the rule of law, and the rule of law has been executed to the n'th degree in California on behalf of both the people and Tookie Williams.

I for one, am not going to miss Stanley Williams. The world will be a little bit better for his passing a few minutes after midnight tonite, and a little worse for having had to force his passing.

However, the world would have been far better off had his mother aborted him some 51 years ago.

Pooh said...

F15C - harsh. But correct, I think.

The world will be a little bit better for his passing a few minutes after midnight tonite, and a little worse for having had to force his passing.

Especially this part.

Unknown said...

Life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) sentences are not a perfect alternative to death sentences. Societies that eschew the death penalty for the worst crimes against it's citizens are culpable when a prisoner, who otherwise would have been executed, kills again. It's happened, and will happen again.

Also, gang leaders and terrorist leaders are quite effective at leading their followers from behind bars. Spare them and they will continue being a bane to society and possibly kill again by proxy.

The human condition is such that there are people capable of such murderous violence that every moment they are alive they pose a danger to others and will kill again given the opportunity.

Such people certainly deserve to die, but I don't believe society is good enough at determining guilt to carry out the death sentence with moral certainty. However, I also don't believe society is willing to do what is necessary to prevent those whose life it spares from wreaking further havoc and death on its citizens.

Those opposing the death penalty must be very clear that LWOP will result in more murders by some of those they pleaded with society to spare. There is no perfect solution.

Unknown said...

Pooh, you are right. A bit too harsh perhaps, but there is no doubt that his lack of existence would have made the world a better place.

MnMark said...

ChrisO wrote:
I'm very mixed about the death penalty. However, I don't feel it's necessary to view the photos of the victims to form an opinion,and I think claiming that no one has a moral basis for advocating clemency without looking at the photos is the height of demagoguery.

It's not demogoguery to ask that all sides of an issue be considered fully. And you just can't fully understand what this man did unless you see it. It is too easy to just say that he shot or murdered some people and let it go at that. Can you even imagine the full, vivid reality of what he did? Can you imagine the scene, the thoughts and feelings of the people who were murdered, their families? The brutal carnage that he happily wrought? To me, that reality far, far outweighs anything I have heard that might weigh in favor of giving this guy a break.

If there were a ton of mitigating circumstances, and it appeared that Tookie may have even been driven to murder by circumstances beyond his control, would the photos be somehow less horrific to look at?

Excuse me, but how is one "driven to murder by circumstances beyond his control"? If it were truly beyond his control, it wouldn't be murder, would it? But suppose there were a "ton of mitigating circumstances". Yes, those definitely must be considered in the decision - as well as the reality of the murders. I'm sure the people on the jury who condemned him to death saw photographs of what he'd done. Is it so unreasonable that people who argue in favor of setting aside that jury's judgment do the same? Don't you really, in a sense, owe it to the victims to stand witness to what was done before you advocate for setting aside the full punishment of their killer?

Pooh said...


not really too harsh. Just right harsh.


The flipside of your position is that someone who kills less messilly is more entitled to clemency. An odd place to draw aesthetic distinctions. (Also, the lawyer in me has to stand up and yell "Objection! Inflammatory and Prejudicial.")

Randy said...

I never met the Yangs. They were murdered before I returned to the country, but I knew of them, because almost all of my Chinese friends and clients, most of whom were motel owners, mentioned their brutal murders at one time or another.

I did know Xiao Chen, a 14-year-old stabbed by 4 much larger teenage admitted Crips wannabes who demanded the bicycle he was riding. He died, gasping for breath, in his mother's arms.

Darnell, my friend Dennis's brother, was returning home from work late one night when he was shot dead by the Crips in a case of mistaken identity.

Brian, the son of one my dad's childhood friends, was night manager of a suburban supermarket. A Crip member robbed the store, and arrested 50 miles away in South Central LA after a high-speed chase, only to be released on bail the next day. Later that night, he returned to the store to eliminate the witness, pointed his gun at Brian, made him get on his knees and beg for his life, and then put the barrel of the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. (Brian survived.)

I met Mark once or twice at parties. He and his lover were friends with one of my roommates. They were dining out with friends when Mark decided to go outside to have a cigarette. A car pulled up to the stop sign, a young man got out of the passenger side of the car, walked up to Mark, stabbed him in the heart, calmly walked back to the car as its occupants laughed and hooted, got in and they drove away as Mark expired before astounded restaurant customers had time to get outside to his aid. A gang initiation, said the police.

Tookie Williams will die tonight. I really don't care one way or another about the death penalty. I do find it disgusting that so many want to make a hero out of a man such as Tookie Williams, who once admitted but now denies and never repented of his proven crimes. Through the organization he found, once controlled, and never quite denounced, this man brought about the most violent period of black-on-black crime in American history, causing the deaths of thousands of young black men (not to mention innocent bystanders), the incarceration of tens of thousands of others, as well as the damage done to the black community with drug dealing, and the impact on society as a whole.

While Jesse Jackson, Maxine Waters, NAACP leaders and a host of other "reponsible black leaders" and "progressives" were grandstanding in Los Angeles, across the continent, in Mississippi, a law-abiding black man named Cory Maye finds himself facing the death penalty for defending his family against unknown house invaders because the invaders turned out to be undercover police breaking down the door of the wrong house.

Jesse Jackson, Maxine Waters, the NAACP and the rest of the "responsible black leaders" and "progressives" were in the wrong place. They should have been in Mississippi.

KCFleming said...

I had long opposed the death penalty, because it has been used in error and seemed un-Christian.

As I have aged, I have seen the effects of people who have no consciences (i.e. sociopaths), who abuse, maim, and kill without remorse or pity. Their lack of guilt then permits them to tweak the consciences of others, asking for the pity and forgiveness they themselves lack. If you ask them, they feel such qualities are a weakness in others, not a virtue. They request your mercy, not because they have been redeemed, but because it is merely a tactic that works.

Williams, in his mind, is "not guilty" in the same way a two-year-old can say "It wasn't me", while standing with the broken vase in hand, and really believe it. And being a natural leader, he has the charisma to convince others of the same.

The question is then, what do we do with people who are dangerous to others, and remain dangers even in prison? For Williams had not only murdered these few motel workers, but he created a system of crime, violence, and death by starting the Crips. He is responsible for that in the same way that Al Capone was responsible for his gang's murders.

It's a terrible thing to do, but less terrible than our other options. I wish I knew of some other way, but I don't.

knox said...

"you just can't fully understand what this man did unless you see it."

I strongly agree with this. I remember being sent to a website that showed photos of the hostage situation in Russia last year where many children were killed and wounded by the Chechen terrorists. I promise you, you can't understand the full horror of senseless violence without seeing it. I had followed that situation closesly and was disgusted by it. But I didn't come close to fully realizing the horror of it until I saw those photos.

Simon Kenton said...

F15C and Internet Ronin -

First-rate posts.

A couple decades ago, a New Mexican governor commuted the death sentences of 6 or 7 inmates. They then escaped. He got with the press to get publicity for his urgent request that they turn themselves in, because if they didn't it would change the parameters of the death penalty debate. They didn't.

Honest-to-Jesus 999-fine high-assay stupidity requires both education and a high IQ.

Scott Lemieux said...

I agree completely. I oppose the death penalty, but I think that if we're going to have it the post-1976 system where fewer people are put to death but clemency is rare (and reserved for cases where the sentence is unjust) is far preferable than the pre-reform period.

AlbieNYC said...

Tookie Williams was as much a terrorist as any jihadist. The toll he exacted on his "people" -- and others -- is incalculable, and will be a legacy we will bear long after the celebrities move on to the next cause.

Lonesome Payne said...

A miracle occurred at the Star Tribune this morning, by the way, involving a frequent victim-think sermonizer named Syl Jones. He wrote about the case and came down hard on the side of "he deserves to be executed."

Get a load of this paragraph (I suppose this will mean more to Mpls people):

"It is fashionable to decry the death penalty as cruel and unusual punishment, as barbaric and even medieval. This is part of modern society's unfortunate propensity to delay or completely obliterate the laws of natural consequences. Endless pleadings -- sickness, extenuating circumstances, born under a bad sign and the devil made me do it -- benefit lawyers and civil libertarians in search of new causes. It makes suckers of the rest of us. Where is Ramsey Clark when you really need him? In Iraq defending another "innocent" named Saddam Hussein, or surely he'd be in Sacramento pleading for Tookie."

Kurt said...

Regarding Anon's comment (7:42 PM, December 12, 2005), I don't think there is hypocrisy in saying you oppose the death penalty, but you don't see why this case is so much worse than any of the others. eli blake makes some very good points, and to my mind, they're not hypocritical but sensible.

Look, I might have philosophical problems with the death penalty, but that doesn't mean I was upset when Timothy McVeigh was put to death--although there was a lot of media outcry about the unjustness of the death penalty then also.

If you believe the death penalty is wrong, then it doesn't mean that you need to turn every brutal murderer who has been condemned to capital punishment into a victim or even a hero, as some of the pro-Tookie crowd was trying to do.