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Countdown to a Legal Lynching
On the morning of October 11, the US Supreme Court declared that it will not hear the case of Stanley Tookie Williams, the most famous inmate on San Quentin’s death row.
Last February, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals turned down Stan’s request for a new hearing by a vote of 15 to 9. But the minority issued a blistering dissent, condemning the "blatant, race-based jury selection" in Williams’ original trial.
Williams appeal reached the Supreme Court in May, where it has been sitting ever since. A decision was originally expected last week, but the court delayed, reportedly to allow its new Chief Justice an opportunity to weigh in on the case. Now it has spoken in no uncertain terms.
Welcome to the racist Roberts’ court.
The office of California State Attorney General Bill Lockyer, a Democrat, wasted no time, announcing that it would be seeking a December 13 execution date for Williams.
The countdown to a legal lynching has begun, and the only thing that can stop it is a massive campaign by Stan’s thousands of supporters around the state and around the world.
In 1971, at the age of seventeen, Stan Williams co-founded the Crips in Los Angeles, which rapidly became the city’s most notorious street gang, spawning imitators around the country and eventually the globe.
Eight years later, with the Los Angeles Police Department eager to find any pretext for getting him off the street, Williams was charged with four murders. In 1981, he was convicted and sent to San Quentin.
In prison, Williams faced hostility and racism from the authorities and eventually served several years in solitary confinement. During this time, he began to rehabilitate himself and made the decision to leave the Crips and speak out against gang violence.
During the 1990s, with the assistance of journalist Barbara Becnel, Stan wrote a series of award-winning books for school children, warning them against gangs, crime and prison. He also set up the Internet Project for Street Peace, which encourages street gangs to stop fighting each other.
Stan’s work has had an enormous impact in schools and inner-city communities. Last year, for instance, gang members in Newark, New Jersey negotiated a truce based on the "Tookie Protocol for Peace," which has remained in effect ever since.
This work has earned Stan a series of Nobel Prize nominations since 2001. (I am proud to have nominated him for the Peace Prize four times since 2002.) It also led a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit to make the unprecedented statement in 2002 that his anti-gang initiatives made Stan a strong candidate for clemency from the governor.
Since Jamie Foxx played Stan in last year’s made-for-TV movie Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story, many people have heard about his amazing anti-gang work. But the movie steered clear of seriously addressing Stan’s original conviction, and so far fewer people are aware that he was framed for crimes that he did not commit.
The main evidence against Stan was the testimony of jailhouse informants who claimed that he had confessed to them. All of these "witnesses" were facing serious felony charges and had strong motivations to make a deal with the police to reduce their own sentences. In fact, in its 2002 ruling, the Ninth Circuit admitted that these informants had "less-than-clean backgrounds and incentives to lie in order to obtain leniency from the state in either charging or sentencing."
Since the original trial, another prisoner has come forward to say that he witnessed one of the informants being given the file on Stan’s case by members of the Sheriff’s Department so that he could learn details about the murders.
None of the physical evidence found at the two crime scenes, including fingerprints and a boot print, matched Stan. A witnesses description of a person seen leaving the scene of one of the crimes did not fit him either. A shotgun shell supposedly matched a weapon he had bought several years earlier, but that gun was in the possession of a couple that was also facing serious felony charges. After they claimed that Stan had confessed to them, however, the investigation against them was dropped.
To get the charges to stick, the prosecutor in the case, Robert Martin, used blatant racism. The trial was moved from Los Angeles to Torrance, a predominantly white, highly conservative area. All the African-Americans in the jury pool were dismissed and Stan’s case was heard by an all-white jury.
In his closing argument, Martin compared Stan in the courtroom to a Bengal tiger in the zoo, and said that "in his environment" (i.e. South Central LA) he would behave like the tiger in its "habitat."
Despite the fact that Martin was later censured twice by the California Supreme Court for his racist practices, which led to death sentences in two of the cases he prosecuted being overturned, and despite the fact that the ACLU, the NAACP, the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund and numerous other groups, filed an amicus brief on Stan’s behalf, the Ninth Circuit has twice rejected the claim that his constitutional rights were violated. Now the Supreme Court has upheld these decisions.
After years of inadequate legal representation, Williams now has a top legal firm working on his behalf, which claims to have uncovered fresh evidence of his innocence. They will be attempting to get the courts to reopen the case while simultaneously preparing an appeal for clemency to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who showed no mercy in the execution of a severely brain-damaged prisoner at the beginning of the year.
But the legal strategy is hopeless without enormous outside pressure. Stan’s case exemplifies many of the key problems with the death penalty-racism, inadequate counsel, reliance on jailhouse snitches, all of which may soon result in the execution of an innocent man. Stan Tookie Williams needs your help.
For information about what you can do to help save his life, visit http://www.savetookie.org.
ALEXANDER COCKBURN, JEFFREY ST CLAIR, BECKY GRANT AND THE INSTITUTE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF JOURNALISTIC CLARITY, COUNTERPUNCH
We published an article entitled "A Saudiless Arabia" by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the "Article"), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the "Website").
Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.
As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.
We are pleased to clarify the position.
August 17, 2005