Thursday, February 3, 2005
Crips Co-Founder, Nobel Nominee, Loses Challenge to Death Sentence as Court Denies En Banc Review
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, over a dissent by nine of its 24 active judges, yesterday denied en banc review of Stanley “Tookie” Williams’ bid to avoid execution for four murders.
Williams, a co-founder of the Crips street gang who was nominated for the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize as a result of his work to keep children from joining gangs, was denied habeas corpus relief by a three-judge panel last fall. The denial of en banc review leaves the U.S. Supreme Court and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger—who has the power of clemency—as Williams’ last avenues of recourse.
The panel affirmed a decision by U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson, rejecting Williams’ bid for a new trial for the murders, which took place in the course of two separate 1979† robberies.
The first victim was Albert Owens, a teenage clerk at a Whittier convenience store. An immunized government witness testified that he, Williams, and two other men stole $120 from the store’s register and that Williams shot the clerk execution-style.
Williams was the only one in the group with a gun, the witness testified. He claimed that Williams mocked the gurgling sounds Owen made as he lay dying. “You should have heard the way he sounded when I shot him,” he quoted Williams as saying.
The victims of the second robbery were Thsai-Shai Yang, Yen-I Yang and Yee Chen Lin, gunned down during a the robbery of their Vermont Avenue motel two weeks after the Whittier robbery. Four witnesses, including† a cellmate, testified that Williams admitted to them that he committed the killings.
Williams, who continues to deny the murders while generally acknowledging his role in fomenting gang violence, presented an alibi defense.
Judge Johnnie B. Rawlinson, writing for the dissenters, argued yesterday that Williams should have been granted relief because his trial attorney, Joseph Ingber, did not object to the removal of three potential African American jurors via peremptory challenges.
“Any way you slice it, counsel’s failure to object constituted ineffective assistance of counsel, and we should not hesitate to say so,” Rawlinson wrote. “... If our judicial system is to inspire a sense of confidence among the populace, we must not, we cannot permit trials to proceed in the face of blatant, race-based jury selection practices.”
Rawlinson was joined by Judges Harry Pregerson, Stephen Reinhardt, Sidney Thomas, Kim M. Wardlaw, William Fletcher, Raymond C. Fisher, Richard A. Paez, and Marsha Berzon.
The three-judge panel had held that there was no prima facie evidence the challenges were race-based.
Williams and a high school buddy, Raymond Washington, created the Crips in 1971. Hundreds of spinoffs and copycat gangs have since emerged across the nation.
Washington was killed during a gang confrontation in 1979. Williams, “Big Took” to his fellow gang members, continued his violent ways and transformed the Crips into a nationwide enterprise.
While appealing his death sentence, he has spent time writing children’s books and coordinating an international peace effort for youths—all from his 9-foot-by-4-foot cell at San Quentin State Prison.
In the panel opinion, Hug took note of Williams’ Nobel nomination, submitted by a group of Swiss parliamentarians. But while his efforts were “laudable,” the judge said, they may only be considered in connection with the clemency process.
The case is Williams v. Woodford, 99-99018.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company