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Anti-Gang Activist "Tookie" to be executed in US

Urging Gov. Schwarzenegger to Grant Clemency

Human Rights Watch asks California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to Grant Clemeny to Stanley "Tookie" Williams

The Honorable Arnold Schwarzenegger
Governor of California
State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger:

We are writing to urge you to grant clemency to Stanley "Tookie" Williams. His execution is scheduled for December 13, 2005.

We ask that you carefully consider the specific concerns surrounding Mr. Williams’ case as well as California’s death penalty system more generally.

Stanley Williams is an exceptional case. Williams was found guilty of committing four murders in 1979. During his 24 years on death row, however, Williams has experienced a transformation that is truly remarkable. During his time in prison, Williams began a crusade to end gang violence and prevent youth from joining gangs. Williams has written an award-winning children’s book about the dangers of gang lifestyle and written a book for young adults warning them against glamorizing prison life. Williams’ autobiography and following movie, Redemption, both aim to dissuade youths from becoming gang members. The movie was instrumental in a 2004 peace agreement between rival gangs, the Crips and the Bloods, which brought together 300 gang members in Newark, New Jersey. Williams’ work on gang truces, Internet mentoring and anti-gang messages has been invaluable to youth advocates and anti-gang crime units. Today, Williams continues to work to dissuade young people from joining gangs. He has asked that he be sentenced to life without parole so that he may continue his work. This is clearly a worthy and effective purpose. Williams’ reformation highlights the power and possibility of rehabilitation within the criminal justice system. Even the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit remarked on his "laudable efforts opposing gang violence from his prison cell," and suggested that his "good works and accomplishments since incarceration may make him a worthy candidate for the exercise of gubernatorial discretion...." As the Ninth Circuit recognized, his current anti-gang work presents a strong argument for clemency.

Serious questions regarding the administration of the death penalty have been raised in recent years, including allegations of racial disparities in sentencing, prosecutorial misconduct, and inadequate and unqualified defense counsel. Recently, there have been worrisome developments regarding California’s death penalty. In 2003, the Santa Clara Law Review exposed numerous flaws in California’s death penalty system. Its work demonstrated that the races of defendants and victims disproportionately affect death sentences in California, and that many death row inmates in the state lack access to qualified counsel to seek review of their convictions and sentences in the courts.

Mr. Williams’ trial exemplifies some of these problems. Notably, he was convicted by an all-white jury. When the only three black jurors were struck from the jury, the defense counsel failed to object to this racially-discriminatory use of peremptory strikes and thus failed to preserve the issue for appeal Moreover, mitigating evidence was not presented at his trial, although concededly this was done at Mr. Williams’ request. Inadequate counsel and racial motivations may very well have contributed to Mr. Williams’ conviction.

It is well known that six people who have been sentenced to death in California have been exonerated on grounds of innocence or have had their convictions overturned. If your state moves forward with executions in the face of these persistent problems, it will undermine justice and erode public confidence in the fundamental fairness of the criminal justice system in California.

The death penalty is an inherently cruel and unusual punishment. If carried out in this case, it will deprive the nation of an important leader in the anti-gang movement. We urge you to grant clemency to Stanley “Tookie” Williams.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Daskal
Advocacy Director, U.S. Program

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