Crips founder deserves to die, Calif. officials say


LOS ANGELES -- California law enforcement officials have launched an unusually fierce campaign to block clemency for Stanley "Tookie" Williams, co-founder of the Crips, whose impending execution is shaping up as the state's most closely watched death penalty battle in decades.

In arguments both legal and emotional, officials are asking Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to reject pleas from clergymen, legislators and entertainers that Williams, who is scheduled to be put to death Dec. 13 for the murders of four people, has redeemed himself by his work on death row to dissuade young people from joining gangs.

Schwarzenegger has wide discretion in deciding clemency, which would commute Williams' death sentence to life in prison without possibility of parole.

`Part of the job'

Yesterday, the governor, speaking to reporters in Shanghai, China, said he had not made up his mind on the Williams case. He described the decision as "part of the job," but one that he approached with "dread."

"It's never a fun thing to do," he said. "This is the toughest thing when you are governor, dealing with someone's life."

Asked whether redemption or mercy would come into play, the governor responded: "I really don't have any guidelines for that. It's a case-by-case situation."

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office filed its formal response yesterday to Williams' clemency petition, declaring that Williams, 51, is a "cold-blooded killer" who has "left his mark forever on our society by co-founding one of the most vicious, brutal gangs in existence, the Crips."

The filing was backed by personal letters from District Attorney Steve Cooley, Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, and the head of the California District Attorneys Association, the president of the California Gang Investigator's Association and the stepmother and brother of one of the murder victims, all urging the governor to show no mercy to Williams, who has been on death row for 24 years.

Harriet Salarno, chairwoman of Crime Victims United of California, said her group was trying to raise money to bring the victims' families, who are in the Midwest, to California to watch the execution. Williams must "be held accountable for the crimes he committed and the lives he took," and his execution will send out an anti-gang "message that is loud and clear," Salarno said.

Williams and a childhood friend founded the Crips in 1971 in Los Angeles, and in the years that followed, the gang did battle with its main rival, the Bloods, for territory and control of the drug trade, leaving hundreds dead. Hundreds of offshoots and copycat gangs with thousands of members have emerged across the country.

Earlier this month, the California Department of Corrections briefly posted on its Web site a statement contending Williams had entrenched himself that a decade ago as the leader of the Crips at San Quentin.

"They don't have anything, because I'm not involved in anything," Williams said from a visiting cage at San Quentin's death row. "This is their way of executing me."

In his 2004 memoir, Blue Rage, Black Redemption, Williams said that his gangster life ended in 1992, and that he knew prison officials "would try at every turn to discredit me."

Abuse of power?

State Sen. Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles Democrat, called the Corrections Department's allegations an effort to malign Williams and an abuse of power.

"I do see it as a very serious offense and one that is intended to help the governor make up his mind," she said.

Yesterday, Corrections Department spokeswoman Terry Thornton said there was "nothing sinister" about the statement and that the department, like many organizations, frequently changes things on its Web site.

Daniel Vasquez, who was the warden at San Quentin from 1983 to 1993 and wrote a letter supporting clemency for the last death row inmate executed, said he had never seen such an inflammatory statement in a press release from the prison.

"It's like they're trying to drum up business for death row," he said.

But San Quentin spokesman Vernell Crittendon, who has worked at the prison for nearly 30 years, said Williams has refused to formally renounce his gang membership and submit to "debriefing" - that is, inform on old friends. Crittendon also noted Williams' willingness to share an exercise yard with Crips and his unusually large prison bank account.

Williams was convicted of murdering Albert Owens at a 7-Eleven in Pico Rivera in February 1979, and Tsai-Shai Yang, Yen-I Yang and Yee-Chin Lin at a Los Angeles motel in March 1979. He has maintained that he did not commit the crimes.

In prison, Williams has gained international acclaim for writing children's books about the dangers of gang life. He has been nominated repeatedly for the Nobel Peace Prize.

On Saturday, a pro-Williams rally outside San Quentin prison will feature rap star Snoop Dogg. Supporters have scheduled several other rallies and showings of Redemption, a film about his life, starring Jamie Foxx, who won an Academy Award for his portrayal of singer Ray Charles.

Schwarzenegger denied the only two other requests for clemency he received - one from Donald Beardslee, who was executed this year, and another from Kevin Cooper, who was granted a stay by a federal appeals court hours before he was to die last year by injection. His case is pending.

Henry Weinstein writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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