December 14, 2005
Warnings on Williams backfired
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
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.