If California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger spares Stanley Tookie Williams from his scheduled execution next week, he likely would use a rationale that the Los Angeles Times says “has virtually disappeared from the modern clemency process: mercy.” Over the last 30 years, governors commuting death sentences have almost never cited an inmate’s redemption as a reason to save his life. They typically act because of doubts about guilt, questions surrounding trial fairness, concerns about mental illness, or worries that capital punishment disproportionately targets minorities. Courts have repeatedly rejected Williams’ legal claims. His clemency bid clemency is rooted in his metamorphosis behind bars, from co-founder of the murderous Crips gang to a peacemaker who writes children’s books and preaches nonviolence. Schwarzenegger hears the clemency case at a closed hearing today.
Schwarzenegger supports the death penalty, but has said the decision in the Williams case is one that he dreads. He has rejected clemency appeals in two other cases. Former Gov. Gray Davis called it “a matter between the governor and his conscience.” “Tookie Williams is the ideal candidate for clemency because his time on death row has dramatically reinforced the notion that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done,” said Bryan Stevenson, an acclaimed death penalty appellate lawyer now at New York University Law School. Prosecutors disagreed. “He seeks redemption, but he won’t even take responsibility for murders committed by his own hand, to say nothing of the thousands to die in gang wars he helped encourage,” said Joshua Marquis, district attorney for Clatsop County in Oregon.