Calif. prison officials launch PR attack on death row inmate


By KIM CURTIS
Associated Press Writer

SAN QUENTIN, California- As murderer and Crips co-founder Stanley Tookie Williams tries to stave off execution next month, California prison officials have launched an unusual counterattack against the notion that he has redeemed himself behind bars.

The Corrections Department earlier this month posted a press release on its Web site about the upcoming execution, detailing Williams' crimes and asserting that he has been a gang leader while on death row at San Quentin Prison.

San Quentin spokesman Vernell Crittendon, speaking on behalf of the department, went further in an interview last week, saying he suspects Williams is orchestrating gangland crimes from his cell.

"I just don't know that his heart is changed," Crittendon said.

Williams, 51, has been behind bars since 1979, when he shot and killed four people during two robberies in Los Angeles. He has been on death row since 1981 and is set to die by injection Dec. 13 in what could be the biggest death-row cause celebre in California since capital punishment was reinstated in 1978.

He and a childhood friend founded the Crips in 1971 in Los Angeles, and in the years that followed, the gang did battle with its main rival, the Bloods, for territory and control of the drug trade, leaving hundreds dead. Hundreds of offshoots and copycat gangs with thousands of members have emerged across the nation.

Williams' supporters contend he has made amends for his crimes, and they are pleading with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to spare his life.

In prison, Williams has gained international acclaim for writing children's books about the dangers of gang life. He has been nominated repeatedly for the Nobel Peace Prize. (In truth, anyone can nominate anyone.) And he has attracted a cadre of celebrity supporters, including Jamie Foxx, who played Williams in a TV movie, "MASH" actor Mike Farrell and rapper Snoop Dogg, who is scheduled to appear at a rally Saturday outside the prison.

The Los Angeles District Attorney's office is expected to respond to Williams' clemency request this week. But Los Angeles Police Department spokeswoman April Harding said there is no evidence of any illegal gang activity on Williams' part.

"None," she said. "His name doesn't come up."

Williams supporters called the prison system's allegations ridiculous.

"What troubles me about the devaluing of Stan's work and its impact on many low-income youngsters ... is they're saying, `We don't care if Stanley Tookie Williams could help another 5,000, 10,000 or 100,000 kids,'" said Barbara Becnel, the inmate's spokeswoman.

In his 2004 memoir, "Blue Rage, Black Redemption," Williams said that his gangster life ended in 1992, and that he knew prison officials "would try at every turn to discredit me."

State Sen. Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles Democrat, called the Correction Department's allegations an effort to malign Williams and an abuse of power.

"I do see it as a very serious offense and one that is intended to help the governor make up his mind," she said. Schwarzenegger, who has not spared anyone's life on death row, has not said whether he will schedule a clemency hearing.

Schwarzenegger, who is in China on a trade mission, on Thursday said he is "dreading" the decision. "It's never a fun thing to do, let me tell you ...You're dealing with someone's life," he told reporters.

On its Web site, the Correction Department said of Williams: "By 1994, having firmly entrenched himself as the leader of the Crips at San Quentin, he wielded his power as his lieutenants and other minions were dispatched to carry out his objectives." The paragraph was removed a day after it was posted following a call from The Associated Press.

Daniel Vasquez, who was warden at San Quentin from 1983 to 1993 and wrote a letter supporting clemency for the last death row inmate executed, said he had never seen such an inflammatory statement in a press release from the prison.

"It's like they're trying to drum up business for death row," he said.

But Crittendon, who has worked at the prison nearly 30 years and regularly deals with Williams, said Williams has refused to formally renounce his gang membership and submit to "debriefing" _ that is, inform on his old friends. Crittendon also cited Williams' willingness to share an exercise yard with Crips and his unusually large prison bank account. And he said Williams' younger son is a trouble-making Crips member in prison for murder.

"A con always will say one thing to you while the whole time he has another agenda," the San Quentin spokesman said. "I'm concerned that possibly this marketing that's going on ... leads the public to hear the words, but not to see that sleight of hand."

In August 2004, a committee of prison officials noted Williams' prior gang activity but said it had not seen any recent gang involvement, according to a report cited by Becnel. The committee commended Williams for his positive steps in the past 10 years.

In his book, Williams addressed nearly all of Crittendon's accusations, saying that informing on gang members would "rip my dignity out of my chest," that he gets along with everyone in the yard, and that his son is trying to change his ways.

As for his bank account, Crittendon said that while other high-profile inmates such as Scott Peterson usually get $10 (euro8.6) or $20 (euro17.2) checks, Williams receives checks for $500 (euro428) or $1,000 (euro856) at a time. But Becnel said people who appreciate Williams' work send him money.

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