Execution Looms for Crips Co-Founder Williams

California's Supreme Court refuses a stay of execution for convicted killer Stanley Tookie Williams. The Crips co-founder is scheduled to die early Tuesday, unless Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger or a federal court intervenes.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne in California, where an inmate is hours away from execution. Stanley "Tookie" Williams was convicted of killing four people in 1979. He's one of the founders of the Crips, but he's hoping for clemency after spending almost half his life on death row.

INSKEEP: A number of reporters have interview Williams over the years, including Renee Montagne, and Renee, what's the case he's made for himself?

MONTAGNE: Well, yes, I interviewed Tookie Williams four years ago, and he was nominated at the time by one of his supporters for the Nobel Peace Prize. That's why I was doing the interview. What his supporters say, most of whom are of the death penalty and what he has said is that he has done many good works that have helped put a dent in gang violence, including brokering a peace deal at one point between the Crips and the Bloods. He's written a series of children's books warning about the gang life. He's not being held up as a man who is innocent, although, by the way, he says he's innocent, but quite the opposite. The man has done terrible things but's been redeemed by the things he did on death row.

INSKEEP: So now we're waiting to find out if the execution will be stopped. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would be the last person who could grant clemency. Last night the state Supreme Court declined to intervene, and we're going to get a report this morning from NPR's Mandalit del Barco.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO reporting:

In a last-minute effort to reopen the case, Stanley Williams' attorneys said he should been allowed to argue someone else killed one of the four murder victims who died in 1979. To this day, Williams claims he is innocent of the crimes that landed him on death row. But California's Supreme Court rejection of the petition means that Williams' fate is now in the hands of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Mr. KAYZMA HAMED(ph) (Minister): We pray that we find mercy in the potentially stony heart of Governor Schwarzenegger.

DEL BARCO: Minister Kayzma Hamed and other supporters in California and around the country are now asking the governor for leniency. Over the weekend, they held vigils outside San Quentin prison, and they rallied outside the governor's Santa Monica church. In San Francisco, Sister Helen Prejean, the author of "Dead Man Walking," added her voice to a chorus of anti-death penalty activists. She says the fact that Williams has never apologized for the four murders doesn't mean he hasn't been redeemed.

Sister HELEN PREJEAN (Author): One way to show remorse is just say, `I am so sorry I killed those people.' Another way to show remorse is with your life, what you do with your life. And look what he's done with his.

(Soundbite of music)

DEL BARCO: Last night at Oakland City Hall, supporters watched a showing of "Redemption," the movie that chronicles Williams' life, from his days as co-founder of the Crips to his years on death row, where he became an anti-gang crusader. Barbara Becnel, who helped him write nine children's books, has been campaigning for him for the past 13 years. Last night she told supporters that in these final hours, Williams is holding up well.

Ms. BARBARA BECNEL (Author): He is as strong as ever, and he says that his peace at this dark, dark moment in his life--that this peace is rooted in his faith.

DEL BARCO: Becnel also claims a Los Angeles man has come forward with new information that could help prove Williams is innocent. She read briefly from an affidavit that has been sent to the governor outlining the man's story. Now Williams' supporters wait for a final decision on his fate.

So do the survivors of one of the victims, Albert Owens, a convenience store clerk who was gunned down in 1979. His widow, Linda Owens, hasn't said whether she wants to see Williams executed, but she has expressed hopes that his anti-gang work will continue, and Owens' brother Wayne had this to say to NPR a few days ago.

Mr. WAYNE OWENS (Brother): There is a chance that his input in the books he co-authored may have done some good, but that's not a quantitative thing. All that we can know is that he's a human being and I will be sorry that a human being has left the Earth.

DEL BARCO: As time runs out, Williams has now been moved to a new cell block closed to the death chamber at San Quentin. He's been visited by the prison chaplain and is being watched around the clock. Governor Schwarzenegger has promised there will be no Hollywood endings, but barring an 11th-hour reprieve, the stage is now set for Williams to die by lethal injection shortly after midnight. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, outside San Quentin.

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