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Tookie Williams executed

Associated Press

San Quentin, Calif. — Convicted killer Stanley Tookie Williams, the Crips gang co-founder whose case stirred an international debate about capital punishment and the possibility of redemption, was executed Tuesday morning.

Mr. Williams, 51, died around 12:35 a.m. PST after receiving a lethal injection at San Quentin State Prison, officials said. Before the execution, he was “complacent, quiet and thoughtful,” Corrections Department spokeswoman Terry Thornton said.

The execution was to have taken place at 12:01, but witnesses said it took about 12 minutes to find the veins in Mr. Williams' left arm.

Mr. Williams looked around the room, turning his head mostly in the direction of supporters and media. They described his manner as upset and defiant but at no time did he offer any resistance.

Witnesses said the mood in the chamber was sombre. As Mr. Williams' breathing began to slow, a group of supporters shouted in unision: "The state of California has killed an innocent man."

The case became the state's highest-profile execution in decades. Hollywood stars and capital punishment foes argued that Mr. Williams' sentence should be commuted to life in prison because he had made amends by writing children's books about the dangers of gangs and violence.

In the days leading up to the execution, state and federal courts refused to reopen his case. On Monday, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger denied Mr. Williams' request for clemency, suggesting that his supposed change of heart was not genuine because he had not shown any real remorse for the countless killings committed by the Crips.

“Is Williams' redemption complete and sincere, or is it just a hollow promise?” Mr. Schwarzenegger wrote. “Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings, there can be no redemption.”

The U.S. Supreme Court also rejected the Mr. Williams' final appeal.

Mr. Williams was condemned in 1981 for gunning down convenience store clerk Albert Owens, 26, at a 7-Eleven in Whittier and killing Yen-I Yang, 76, Tsai-Shai Chen Yang, 63, and the couple's daughter Yu-Chin Yang Lin, 43, at the Los Angeles motel they owned. Mr. Williams claimed he was innocent.

Witnesses at the trial said Mr. Williams boasted about the killings, stating “You should have heard the way he sounded when I shot him.” Mr. Williams then made a growling noise and laughed for five to six minutes, according to the transcript that the Governor referenced in his denial of clemency.

Mr. Williams was the 12th person executed in California since lawmakers reinstated the death penalty in 1977.

About 1,000 death penalty supporters and opponents gathered outside the prison to await the execution. Singer Joan Baez, actor Mike Farrell and the Rev. Jesse Jackson were among the celebrities who protested the execution.

“The Governor's 96-hour wait to give an answer was a cowardly act and was tortuous,” said former MASH star Mike Farrell, a death penalty opponent. “I would suggest that had he the courage of his convictions he could have gone over to San Quentin and met with Stanley Williams himself and made a determination rather than letting his staff legal adviser write this garbage.”

“Tonight is planned, efficient, calculated, antiseptic, cold-blooded murder and I think everyone who is here is here to try to enlist the morality and soul of this country,” said Ms. Baez who sang Swing Low, Sweet Chariot on a small plywood stage set up just outside the gates.

A contingent of 40 people who had walked the approximately 40 kilometres from San Francisco held signs calling for an end to “state-sponsored murder.” Others said they wanted to honour the memory of Mr. Williams' victims.

Former Crips member Donald Archie, 51, was among those attending a candlelight vigil. He said he would work to spread Mr. Williams' anti-gang message.

“The work ain't going to stop,” said Mr. Archie, who said he was known as “Sweetback” as a young Crips member. “Tookie's body might lay down, but his spirit ain't going nowhere. I want everyone to know that, the spirit lives.”

Among the celebrities who took up Mr. Williams' cause were Jamie Foxx, who played the gang leader in a cable movie about Mr. Williams; rapper Snoop Dogg, himself a former Crip; Sister Helen Prejean, the nun depicted in Dead Man Walking; and Bianca Jagger.

During Mr. Williams' 24 years on death row, a Swiss legislator, college professors and others nominated him for the Nobel Prizes in peace and literature.

“There is no part of me that existed then that exists now,” Mr. Williams said recently during an interview with the Associated Press.

“I haven't had a lot of joy in my life. But in here,” he said, pointing to his heart, “I'm happy. I am peaceful in here. I am joyful in here.”

Mr. Williams' statements did not sway some relatives of his victims, including Lora Owens, Albert Owens' stepmother. In the days before his death, she was among the outspoken advocates that the execution should go forward.

“[Williams] chose to shoot Albert in the back twice. He didn't do anything do deserve it. He begged for his life,” she said during a recent interview. “He shot him not once, but twice in the back. ... I believe Williams needs to get the punishment he was given when he was tried and sentenced.”

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