Crips Co-Founder Tookie Williams Put to Death
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
Early this morning, the state of California executed convicted killer and anti-gang crusader Stanley "Tookie" Williams. He was put to death at San Quentin prison. He had been on death row for over 25 years. Stanley Williams' final appeals to the state and US Supreme Court were turned down, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declined to grant him clemency. NPR's Mandalit del Barco was at San Quentin last night, and she joins me now.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO reporting:
Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Tell us how Stanley Williams died.
DEL BARCO: Well, Renee, shortly after midnight here in California, Stanley Williams was led to the death chamber. He had been strapped down in the execution chamber and then injected with a lethal dose of chemicals. Among those who were watching him die was Laura Owens, the stepmother of Albert Owens. He was the convenience store clerk who was gunned down in 1979. And a few days ago she had told reporters that Tookie Williams chose to shoot Albert in the back twice, and she said he didn't do anything to deserve it. He begged for his life, talking about her stepson. And she said he believed Williams needed to get the punishment he was given when he was tried and sentenced.
Now Stanley Williams had invited five witnesses, including one of his attorneys and Barbara Becnel, his longtime friend and co-author of his anti-gang children's books. Now she and his other supporters were in the room with him, reportedly blowing him kisses and appearing to mouth the words `I love you' and `God bless you.'
Now Kevin Fagan is a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, and he was one of the media witnesses who watched Tookie Williams die. Here's how he described the reaction from his supporters.
Mr. KEVIN FAGAN (Reporter, San Francisco Chronicle): When he was still conscious, they gave what looked like black power salutes several times to him, one man and two women. And most strikingly, at the end of the execution, as those three were heading out, they yelled, `The state of California just killed an innocent man.'
DEL BARCO: Now it was at that point that Laura Owens, the victim's stepmother, began to cry, and it seemed that people on both sides--or all sides of the issue were in pain.
MONTAGNE: As you say, a family member of one victim was there. I know other family members were there. Before we turn to that, there were thousands of protesters outside the prison. What did they have to say?
DEL BARCO: Well, there were about maybe 2,000 people outside the prison gates as Tookie Williams was executed, and all day they had been singing, chanting and praying and reading from some of the anti-gang children's books. Many of them seemed quite upset and angry over the death penalty and Williams' execution; some were in shock. There were anti-death penalty activists, clergy, young people who had hoped that the governor would grant clemency, and they even left a candle shrine in the street. They said that Stanley Williams was a redeemed man while in prison, and they thought he should have been allowed to live to continue his crusade against violence.
MONTAGNE: Mandalit, turn now to the victims. Albert Owens you've just spoken about but also Stanley Williams was convicted in a separate robbery of killing a family: Yen-l Yang, his wife Tsai-Shai Chen Yang, their daughter Yu-Chin Yang Lin at a motel they owned in Los Angeles. What about them?
DEL BARCO: Well, yes, there was a small group of people outside the prison who were there, they said, to honor those victims. There was one woman named Debbie Lynch who said that if Stanley Williams had admitted to the crimes, the governor might have had a reason to spare his life.
MONTAGNE: Governor Schwarzenegger decided not to spare Williams' life. What reasons did he give?
DEL BARCO: Arnold Schwarzenegger reportedly has said he read Tookie Williams' books, but he was not convinced. He said that he had considered the evidence and court decisions from the past 25 years, and he saw no justification for sparing Williams' life. He questioned whether Tookie Williams' redemption was complete and sincere, and he noted that he had never apologized for the four murders that landed him on death row.
To the end, though, Stanley Williams maintained his innocence, and he was pronounced dead at 12:35 AM.
MONTAGNE: Mandalit, thanks very much. NPR's Mandalit del Barco.