Despite Protest, California Executes Former Gangster

SAN QUENTIN, California -- California prison officials executed Stanley Tookie Williams, 51, the former leader of the Crips gang who brutally killed four people in 1979, early on Tuesday after top courts and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger rejected final appeals to spare his life.

The time of death was 12:35 a.m. California time on Tuesday.

The execution by lethal injection at San Quentin State Prison, north of San Francisco, followed a frenzied but failed effort to reopen the case by supporters of Williams, who repudiated gang life during his 24 years on death row.

The case has generated widespread interest and fierce debate over the death penalty in the United States because Williams had written a series of books warning young people against gangs.

Witnesses said guards struggled for about 12 minutes to place the needle in a vein in his arm, frustrating Williams, who asked at one point: "Still can't find it?"

After he was strapped down, he raised his head often, especially to look at Barbara Becnel, the editor of his books and foremost supporter who helped bring broad publicity to his case. After his death, Becnel and two other supporters broke the silence in the witness room, saying: "The state of California just killed an innocent man."

A relative of one of the victims wept as the prisoner's supporters made their defiant statement.

Becnel and other supporters said Williams' anti-gang work showed the inmate had changed in the half of his life he had spent in prison. But Schwarzenegger and others said his continued protestations of innocence negated any claim that he had redeemed himself.

"Stanley Williams insists he is innocent, and that he will not and should not apologize or otherwise atone for the murders of the four victims in this case," Schwarzenegger wrote Monday in denying clemency. "Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings there can be no redemption."

Williams was convicted in 1981 of killing Albert Owens as he lay face down on the floor of a 7-Eleven convenience store in a $120 robbery. Two weeks later, Williams shot dead an elderly Taiwanese immigrant couple running a motel, as well as their visiting daughter.

Some 2,000 opponents of the death penalty gathered outside the gates of San Quentin, where Jesse Jackson addressed the crowd and folk singer Joan Baez sang spirituals.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court as well as the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected final appeals to reconsider the case.