Jewish World Review Sept. 18, 2002 / 12 Tishrei, 5763
Debra J. Saunders
Nobel Peace Prize killer
After the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals roundly rejected Stanley "Tookie" Williams' appeal of his death sentence last week, the court noted that Tookie's 2001 Nobel Peace Prize nomination may make him "a worthy candidate" for a sentence commutation by the California governor.
In the Ninth Circuit, dubious credentials usually trump common sense -- so I should salute the judges for ruling against Williams by a 3-to-0 vote.
Williams' trial lawyer had argued that Williams didn't kill Albert Owens during a 7-Eleven robbery in 1979 and that he didn't kill Tsai-Shai Yang, Yen-I Yang and their daughter, Ye Chen Lin, in another robbery two weeks later. The appeal argued that the trial lawyer then was supposed to add that if Williams did kill the four victims, he was mentally incapacitated at the time.
The appeal also argued that Williams couldn't get a fair trial during the trial's penalty phase because jurors overheard Williams calling them "sons of bitches."
Then, having made mincemeat of Team Tookie's legal arguments, and having recognized Tookie's history as a gangster -- the website www.tookie.com acknowledges Tookie as the co-founder of the Crips street gang -- Judge Proctor Hug Jr. ended the decision with a call for the governor to consider a clemency petition for the multiple murderer.
Hug apparently bought into the Tookie pose of gang leader who got in touch with his own humanity behind bars and now tries to persuade kids not to join gangs. "Tookie greatly regrets the violent history of the Crips -- particularly how so many young black men have hurt each other -- and he wants to do what he can to stop it," www.tookie.com explains.
Of course, if Tookie really regretted his own violent history, he should have apologized to the families of his white and Asian victims. Instead, he is sorry for nonspecific crimes against black men -- which suggests that the remorseful anti-gang rap may exist simply to help Tookie beat the Last Big Needle.
And Hug called for a clemency review even though Williams didn't admit to the killings or publicly express remorse for them.
Some Tookie groupies clearly don't care that Williams killed four human beings. Swiss legislator Mario Fehr -- who first nominated Tookie for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 -- told me, "I don't know what (Williams) did 20 years ago." But if Tookie did kill four innocents, Fehr continued, his example can show young people that "no matter what mistakes you have made in your life, you can change for the better."
But as California Deputy Attorney General Lisa J. Brault noted, Tookie co-founded the Crips and killed four people. "Writing a few children's books did not erase all his crimes."
Senior Assistant Attorney General Dane Gillette says that there is no legal requirement that a California petitioner admit his guilt and express remorse, but he personally believed a governor wouldn't commute the sentence for someone who didn't 'fess up.
And whatever you want to say about Gov. Gray Davis, he isn't going to commute Tookie's death sentence.
Wayne Owens is the older brother of Tookie's first victim, Albert Owens, 26, (who, in many stories and court papers, was wrongly described as a teen-ager named Alvin).
Owens spoke to me by phone from his Kansas City home on Sept. 11, a day he noted "of indescribably evil" crimes committed by killers who didn't have to look their victims in the eye.
"But this was face to face," Owens said, as if talking to Tookie. "This wasn't some anonymous person in some anonymous building somewhere. (My brother) was a person standing in front of you who didn't need to die, but you decided to kill him anyway."
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