Archive for Monday, November 28, 2005

Gang founder’s death-row fight gains star support

November 28, 2005

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— Jamie Foxx stepped into the spotlight at his latest movie premiere with more than the usual publicity drill in mind.

Don't let it happen, the actor urged - don't let the state of California execute Stanley Tookie Williams, the convicted murderer and Crips gang co-founder who's been recast behind bars in the role of peacemaker.

Foxx is not alone. An unusually varied collection of Hollywood stars and other famous names is trying to persuade Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that Williams - who has become a celebrity in his own right - can do more for society alive than dead.

Williams' supporters range from the holy (Archbishop Desmond Tutu) to the streetwise (rapper Snoop Dogg, himself once a Crip).

Whether a movie star governor is more inclined to consider their pleas for clemency is debatable. But the chorus is only growing louder as Williams' Dec. 13 execution by lethal injection approaches.

His supporters cite Williams' efforts to curb youth gang violence, including nine children's books and an online project linking teenagers in America and abroad. A Swiss legislator, college professors and others repeatedly have submitted his name for Nobel peace and literature prizes.

Last weekend, Snoop Dogg told about 1,000 people rallying outside San Quentin State Prison that Williams' activism had touched him.

"His voice needs to be heard," said the musician, whose new song, "Real Soon," touts Williams' anti-gang efforts.

Last Monday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Bianca Jagger, a death-penalty opponent and former wife of rocker Mick Jagger, visited San Quentin. Jackson said he prayed with Williams, promising, "'We are going to fight for you, and we are going to win."

Foxx, who played Williams in "Redemption," a 2004 movie which brought the death-row inmate's story to a wider audience, used the New York premiere of "Jarhead" to issue his plea.

In a jailhouse interview last week, Williams said he was unimpressed by his prominent supporters and relied on his attorneys to evaluate the benefit of efforts on his behalf.

Hollywood's political and social activism has been known to provoke criticism. But Williams said he was unconcerned his famous boosters could create a backlash that might sway Schwarzenegger against him.

"In the position I'm in, I don't see how anybody can hurt," he said.

Williams, 51, who saw the notorious gang he co-founded with a childhood friend spawn copycats worldwide, denies committing the 1979 murders that put him on death row. He was convicted of killing a convenience-store worker and, days later, killing two motel owners and their daughter during a robbery.

The crimes Williams was accused of were "heinous," said former "M-A-S-H" star Mike Farrell, a longtime death-penalty opponent. But Williams has made "an extraordinary transformation," said Farrell, who's lobbied for him for several years.

In apparent recognition of the power of the pro-Williams movement, the state Department of Corrections launched a counterattack questioning the sincerity of his anti-gang conversion and alleging he remains involved with the Crips.

Lora Owens, stepmother of victim Albert Owens, opposes clemency and resents the celebrity involvement.

"I think most of them are abusing their popularity and their access to the media," she said. "If they looked at the facts, then they'd realize Williams has not done anything to deserve clemency."

Williams' link to the entertainment world was cemented with the biographical movie. Some of those involved in "Redemption," including Foxx and Lynn Whitfield, have become backers.

Williams' support was particularly deep among blacks but extended much further, Farrell said. Working with Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Farrell gathered signatures from more than 100 religious leaders, lawmakers and others of prominence for a clemency request that went to the governor. Among those whose names are attached: NAACP Chairman Julian Bond; U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa; Harry Belafonte; Bonnie Raitt and Russell Crowe.

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