I admit, I hadn't spent much time following the debate over the fate of Stanley "Tookie" Williams when I got an impassioned email from entertainment attorney Eric Feig:
Please excuse the mass email. The impersonal approach is especially inappropriate considering the incredibly personal nature of this note, but I really don't have a choice. It's a matter of life or death (never thought I'd actually be writing that) and I need help.
A long time friend and client of mine is in serious trouble.
Starting in July 2001, ICM and I began representing Stanley "Tookie" Williams and Barbara Becnel in connection with the FX made-for-TV film called "Redemption" starring Jamie Foxx who played the role of Death Row inmate Stanley Tookie Williams and Lynn Whitfield as Barbara Becnel, the journalist who became his lifeline to the outside world. Williams has been nominated five times for a Nobel Peace Prize and four times for the Nobel Prize for literature for his series of children's books and international peace efforts intended to curtail youth gang violence.
Williams has been on death row since 1981. He's written - with Becnel - nine children's books preaching peace. And he's had a steady stream of celebrity support (Winnie Mandela and many others have visited him in jail). Among Williams' awards: In 2005 President George W. Bush gave him the Presidential Call to Service Award for his volunteer efforts to help youth.
In 1971, at the age of 17, Williams co-founded the Crips, which rapidly became one of Los Angeles' most notorious street gangs. Eight years later, with Los Angeles police eager to find any pretext to get him off the street, Williams was charged with four murders. He was convicted and sent to Death Row at San Quentin prison.
Last February, the Ninth Circuit turned down Williams' request for a new hearing, by a 15-to-9 vote. But the minority issued a blistering dissent, condemning "blatant, race-based jury selection" in Williams' original trial.
On October 11, the U.S. Supreme Court declared it would not hear the appeal of Stanley Tookie Williams. That clears the way for the state of California to try to execute him. Although executions usually do not take place this close to Christmas and are usually 3-4 months after the US Supreme Court rejects hearing an appeal, the office of California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, a Democrat, wasted no time in announcing that it would seek a December 13 execution date for Williams.
This e-mail is not about the death penalty. It is not just about the life of one person, client and friend. IT IS ABOUT SAVING THE LIVES OF THOUSANDS OF AT RISK KIDS, WHO WILL GO ON TO VIOLENCE AND DEATH UNLESS WE CAN STOP STANLEY WILLIAM'S EXECUTION. Over the last fifteen years, Stanley Williams has already saved thousands of kids' lives. It is because of Stanley's "street cred' that kids listen to him and heed his words and warnings of gang life, violence and prison.
If Stanley's death sentence is commuted to life in prison, thousands more kids will be saved by the work Stanley will continue to do and therefore it is irrelevant whether you agree with the politics of the death penalty or not, because that is not what this about. There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO BE GAINED and A GREAT DEAL TO LOSE by executing Stanley Tookie Williams. In fact it is unconscionable to collectively punish all, or any, of the kids Stanley would have helped over the next 30-40 years if his sentence is commuted to life in prison. Stanley's work for kids is not a last minute change of heart. He has been doing this work for 15 years and his execution will absolutely cause a huge and devastating loss to the kids he can save and the communities here and throughout the world where these kids come from and where gangs exist.
Keep in mind no one's pressing to let Williams free -- just to commute his sentence to life in prison. And like Eric emails, it's not a death penalty issue (I personally am not a fan, given the astounding number of wrongly convicted people in Death Row) it's a question of whether Williams is more valuable to society dead or alive. I think there's enough of a compelling reason to grant clemency.
In his email to entertainment industry folks, Eric (who can be reached at email@example.com) recommends contacting local-state reps... and hopes to stir wealthy and powerful contacts to convince the Governor and First Lady Maria Shriver to stop the execution. More info at www.savetookie.org.