Integrity Matters
December 14, 2005

Warnings on Williams backfired

Question: (E-217)

Dear Jim:

Was integrity lost when Stanley Tookie Williams was put to death at San Quentin Prison early Tuesday morning?


No, integrity was not lost, but another life was. In Williams' two courts of last resort, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, his final pleas for a reprieve were turned down. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger then denied clemency, leading to the end of his life at 12:35 a.m.

Said Schwarzenegger in his written statement, "The facts do not justify overturning the jury's verdict or the decisions of the courts in this case."

As a consequence, Williams' sentence of capital punishment, being put to death for his crimes, was carried out, and he Williams is now dead.

The four murders for which he was convicted occurred in the late 1970s. In 1981, Williams began serving a death sentence that finally ended 24 years later.

Along the way, he renounced his gang-violence ways and wrote books aimed at children concerning the risks to young people who choose similar paths.

Williams' ability to communicate effectively attracted admirers, who later rallied around him. They wrote letters to those in authority, demanding he be granted a reprieve from execution.

In recent weeks, some communicated through the media, protesting his conviction and then suggesting - perhaps threatening - that if Williams suffered death at the hands of the legal system, retribution was a likely consequence.

Real or not, these warnings from those who wanted so very much to protect him may actually have provided the fuel for the fire that ultimately consumed him.

The justice system of the United States is not perfect. Nonetheless, it is still admired all over the world. Those who expect decisions to be changed in response to threats of violence - real or perceived - undermine justice and the ability of officials to govern.

Celebrities, power brokers and those with connections reaching across many socioeconomic circles wanted to make statements in support of Williams. But when their frustration and anger turned to threats of violence against the very system that sustains society, then what options were left to those responsible for maintaining the integrity of the justice system?

Placed in this "corner," the integrity of the process had to be protected.

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