The Murder of Stanley Tookie Williams

by Rebecca Doran & Jeff Mackler / January 2006 issue of Socialist Action newspaper

Stanley Tookie Williams’ executioners took nearly 15 minutes to find a vein to inject into his body the chemicals that would kill this proud and courageous fighter for human dignity. Death for Williams came approximately 35 excruciating minutes after he was strapped to the gurney in San Quentin’s death chamber. The noted time of death was 12:35 a.m., Dec. 13. Williams was a San Quentin death-row inmate for more than two decades, a Nobel Prize nominee for peace and literature nine times over, and the co-founder of the Los Angeles gang, the Crips.

In the days and minutes before the execution, the U.S. Supreme Court, the California Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger rejected consideration of evidence indicating that Williams was innocent of the four 1979 murders he had been convicted of committing. This evidence included an important last-minute affidavit from Gordon Von Ellerman, who claimed he had shared a jail cell with a prosecution witness during Williams’ criminal trial. According to Von Ellerman, a
member of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department handed documents regarding Williams’ case to the prosecutor’s witness.

This witness had bragged to Von Ellerman and others that he planned to use the information in these documents to testify that Williams had offered him a jailhouse confession. The witness, in return, received a lighter sentence in his own criminal trial. In the hours leading up to Williams’ execution, three more witnesses came forward to support Von Ellerman’s
affidavit, but Schwarzenegger, who held the power to grant Williams a last-minute stay of execution, disregarded this important evidence.

There were no eyewitnesses to the murders in Williams’ case. Most of the perjured testimony against Williams came from inmates looking for leniency agreements from state authorities. And years after Williams’ trial, a forensics/firearms expert testified that the only physical evidence used to convict Williams—an expended shotgun shell that was supposedly fired from Williams’ 12-gauge shotgun—was “junk science at best.” In a matter of weeks, as the details of Williams’ fight for life and justice attracted worldwide attention, he emerged as a powerful symbol of the need to abolish the racist and classist death penalty. Tens of thousands of letters and phone calls flooded the governor’s office asking that he grant clemency to Williams.

An estimated crowd of 5000 of his supporters and opponents of the death penalty rallied just a few hundred yards from the execution site at San Quentin in the largest mobilization of its kind in the prison’s history. They were there to witness an atrocity and to dedicate themselves to fight against its repetition.

The mass protest was organized by Barbara Becnel, the tireless long-time supporter and co-author of Williams’ books, along with Campaign to End The Death Penalty. The movement stood in solidarity with a broad spectrum of anti-death-penalty organizations, such as
actor Mike Farrell’s Death Penalty Focus, the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, the NAACP, the Nation of Islam, Pacifica radio station KPFA, and many others.

The massive protest, complimented by solidarity actions across the nation and world, was living proof that Williams’ spirit and teachings of peace will live on and that every time the state’s brutal and corrupt power is employed to take another life, Tookie’s name will be invoked to discredit the death penalty. This senseless execution cost the prevailing powers dearly. Williams invited his closest friends, including Barbara Becnel, to be with him during his final minutes. And after mouthing words of loving encouragement to Tookie as he lay strapped to the gurney—and as Tookie returned those words to his friends through the glass of the execution chamber—the inept executioners finally succeeded at their sick task. Becnel and friends left the normally silent witness chambers proclaiming to the presiding
officials, “The state of California just killed an innocent man!”

Later, Becnel commented on Stan’s execution: “During the course of their bumbling, we watched him grimace in pain, we watched him finally reach a point of frustration, where you saw him lift his head up, and you could see he was saying: ‘can’t you just do this?‘”

Becnel took possession of Tookie’s body for a public Dec. 20 funeral service in Los Angeles. With the help of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, former wife of South Africa’s past president Nelson Mandela, his ashes will be laid to rest in Tookie’s ancestral and spiritual home, South Africa. Tookie once wrote that he’d like to be “buried in South Africa under a yohirimbi tree”
or, as he wrote, he would like his “ashes scattered in the Blue Nile River to feed the fishes and other organisms.”

Some nine hours before the execution, Gov. Schwarzenegger issued a “Statement of Decision” denying Williams clemency. In rejecting the immense record of Williams’ redemptive work the governor stated crudely, “the continued pervasiveness of gang violence leads one to question the efficacy of William’s message,” a statement akin to an assertion
that continuing illiteracy is the result of teaching Shakespeare in the schools.

On the day preceding the execution, national NAACP representatives held a Los Angeles press conference declaring that Williams’ work was responsible for saving the lives of an estimated 150,000 youth. A full-page Los Angeles Times advertisement sponsored by
the NAACP declared the organization’s intention to hire Williams as a specialist in this area.

“The dedication of Williams’ book ‘Life in Prison’ casts significant doubt on his personal redemption,” Schwarzenegger’s statement continued. “Specifically, the book is dedicated to ‘Nelson Mandela, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Assata Shakur, Geronimo Ji Jaga Pratt, Ramona Africa, John Africa, Leonard Peltier, Dhoruba Al-Mujahid, George Jackson, Mumia Abu-Jamal,
and the countless other men, women, and youth who have to endure the hellish oppression of living behind bars.'”

“The mix of individuals on this list is curious,” said the governor. “Most have violent pasts and some have been convicted of committing heinous murders, including the killing of law enforcement officials.” Schwarzenegger added, “But the inclusion of George Jackson on this list defies reason and is a significant indicator that Williams is not reformed and that he still sees violence and lawlessness as a legitimate means to address societal problems.” Schwarzenegger barely attempts to conceal his racist contempt for capitalism’s framed-up and persecuted African-American victims.

Two of those he cites as being convicted of “committing heinous murders,” Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt and Dhoruba Al-Mujahid, were released after their convictions had been exposed as government frame-ups. In the case of Geronimo, the city of Los Angeles and the FBI were compelled to pay their victim a penalty in excess of $4 million for the 26 years of his life
they had stolen. Al Mujahid spent 20 years in jail for a crime he did not commit.

Angela Davis, who was acquitted of all charges brought against her by the state of California, spoke eloquently at the San Quentin rally. She linked the horror of the government’s lies in pursuit of Williams’ murder to the now thoroughly exposed lies that the U.S. government employed to justify its murderous war against the people of Iraq.

Another of Schwarzenegger’s “violent” offenders, Nelson Mandela, spent 26 years in apartheid South Africa’s Robbin Island prison. He was released and became the nation’s president.

In the case of all of the others, they were and remain victims of racist frame-ups and political persecution, all political prisoners who have never ceased proclaiming their innocence, with mountains of evidence to prove it.

George Jackson, who joined the Black Panther Party and became a socialist while in prison, was sentenced at age 18 to one-year-to-life imprisonment for stealing $70. He was murdered by prison guards in 1971 in the aftermath of a guard-provoked prison rebellion. He had been charged with killing a guard but was murdered just days before his case was to be brought to trial.

The San Quentin protest heard actor Mike Farrel, a leading anti-death-penalty activist, present a portion of the new evidence pointing to Williams’ innocence. Activist Derrel Myers, whose son Jo Jo White was a murder victim, spoke eloquently in explaining why the
socially malformed person who killed Jo Jo was a product of a society whose deep-seated racism and oppression produced individuals without the slightest hope of living productive lives.

Singer-song writer Joan Baez condemned Williams’ execution as “cold blooded, calculated murder.” Anti-death-penalty activist Rebecca Doran read a message of solidarity with Williams from San Quentin death-row inmate Kevin Cooper, who two years earlier had defeated an order for his own execution and who today, based on startling evidence pointing to his innocence and to a state-orchestrated frame-up, faces renewed prospects for freedom.

Jeff Mackler, a coordinator of the defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal, reviewed critical details of the racist frame-up that has kept Mumia on death row for 24 years. Mackler explained that the ongoing fight for Mumia’s freedom had led to a critical Dec. 6 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals that may lead to a new trial and freedom for Jamal.

The state of California and its governor stand discredited in the eyes of millions. The battle
against the death penalty has been given new impetus by the massive mobilizations to thwart Tookie’s murder.

And the movement has found new, unlikely leaders such as hip-hop star and former Crip member Snoop Dogg, who spoke to Tookie by telephone just hours before his death about the book they planned to write together about sharing wisdom among Black men. Snoop Dogg and countless others have vowed to carry on Tookie’s message of peace, and a new movement to prove Tookie’s innocence and the state of California’s guilt is being formed.

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