Wednesday, September 11, 2002
Crips Co-Founder, Nobel Nominee, Loses Challenge to Death Sentence
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
Stanley “Tookie” Williams, a co-founder of the Crips street gang who was nominated for last year’s Nobel Peace Prize as a result of his work to keep children from joining gangs, was denied habeas corpus relief yesterday by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The panel affirmed a decision by U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson, rejecting Williams’ bid for a new trial for the murders of four people in two separate 1979 robberies. He faces possible execution next year.
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. His trial counsel, Joseph Ingber, presented no evidence in the penalty phase, preferring to argue lingering doubt.
Judge Procter Hug Jr., writing for the Ninth Circuit, rejected Williams’ claim that he was prejudiced as a result of the heavy security deployed at his trial.
An alternate juror declared that she had a family member with law enforcement experience, and that she knew that usually no more than two bailiffs or security officers were assigned to a trial. At the Williams trial, she said, she noticed that there were generally four bailiffs in the courtroom.
Comments to Jury
Williams also cited comments to the jury by Ingber that “there were eight, sometimes nine deputy sheriffs in this courtroom” and that “the entire trial has been permeated with bailiffs sitting immediately behind Mr. Williams, behind me, over my shoulder.”
The combination of the alternate juror’s declaration and Ingber’s comments at trial, Hug said, were insufficient to support an inference of prejudice, especially since the alternate juror did not claim that she discussed her observations with other members of the venire.
The appellate panel also upheld Wilson’s finding that no juror saw that Williams was shackled during the trial.
Hug went on to reject William’s claim that one of the witnesses, Samuel Coleman, was coerced into testifying that Williams confessed to the motel murders.
Coleman claimed in a declaration accompanying Williams’ habeas corpus petition that after he and Williams were picked up in Coleman’s car after the murders, he was beaten by police and agreed to testify only because he feared further beatings and also thought he would otherwise be charged with involvement in the crimes.
But Hug noted that Coleman’s trial testimony occurred two years after the interrogation.
“With this passage of time, the physically and psychologically coercive atmosphere of the interrogation had certainly dissipated,” the appellate jurist said, further noting that Coleman retained an attorney prior to Williams’ trial and obtained a grant of immunity.
The court also rejected Williams’ claims that Ingber rendered ineffective assistance. The attorney’s decision to argue lingering doubt rather than present mitigating evidence based on psychological and family background, Hug said, was made after adequate investigation and constitute a reasonable tactical choice.
The evidence was weak, Hug said, and would have opened the door to damaging rebuttal evidence of his activities with the Crips.
Williams and a high school buddy, Raymond Washington, created the gang 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 spends 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.
Hug took note of Williams’ Nobel nomination, submitted by a group of Swiss parliamentarians.
“We are aware of Williams’ 2001 Nobel Peace Prize nomination for his laudable efforts opposing gang violence from his prison cell, notably his line of children’s books, subtitled ‘Tookie Speaks Out Against Gang Violence,’ and his creation of the Internet Project for Street Peace,” the judge wrote. “Although Williams’ good works and accomplishments since incarceration may make him a worthy candidate for the exercise of gubernatorial discretion, they are not matters that we in the federal judiciary are at liberty to take into consideration.”
A spokesman for Gov. Gray Davis said it’s too soon to know what will happen.
“If Governor Davis is presented for a request for clemency, he will certainly give it careful consideration,” spokesman Byron Tucker said. “It’s impossible to predict what action the governor might take.”
Davis has never granted clemency in a death penalty case.
The case is Williams v. Woodford, 99-99018.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company