Posted on Tue, Nov. 22, 2005
Olathe man urges denial of clemency
Victim’s brother breaks silence
By JOHN SHULTZ
The Kansas City Star
Through 24 years of legal wrangling over the fate of the man convicted of killing his brother, Wayne Owens stayed above the fray.
In that time, convicted murderer Stanley “Tookie” Williams, co-founder of the Crips street gang, became a children’s author, an anti-violence advocate and a star for death-penalty opponents. His myriad supporters called him a changed man and nominated him for the Nobel peace prize.
The story of his reformation grew to eclipse that of the four persons he was convicted of killing in California.
Owens, of Olathe, stepped into the spotlight last week with a letter asking California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to help return the focus to Owens’ brother — a freckle-faced redhead with a big smile who was a security guard in Westport before he headed west to put his life back on track.
In the letter, Wayne Owens recounted the last moments in the life of his brother, Albert, and asked the governor to deny Williams’ plea for clemency.
Owens had to overcome his distaste for capital punishment to get to that point.
“I don’t believe it is a deterrent. Never have,” said Owens, a former stand-up comic and novelist. “I don’t like it, but I also know that this man would be such a strong figure who basically would stand for not taking responsibility.
“If there was some way that we could ensure that life without possibility of parole was indeed life without possibility of parole … that would be where all of my energies would be toward.”
While imprisoned, Williams won praise for his writings cautioning children to steer clear of gangs. But Williams has not offered what Owens’ family most wants to hear: an apology.
“There’s been a lot of talk about redemption, but redemption always begins with taking responsibility for what you’ve done and who’ve you’ve harmed,” Owens said.
An apology may never come. Williams has maintained his innocence in the four murders, arguing in his appeals that evidence was flawed and that race played a role in the selection of his jury.
Williams was convicted in 1981 of killing 26-year-old Albert Owens in a robbery two years earlier. Authorities said Williams, after smoking a PCP-laced cigarette, was part of a four-man team that held up the Los Angeles 7-Eleven store where Owens worked, and that he shot Albert Owens twice in the back as the clerk was prone on the floor.
“He did everything he was told to, he was not a threat, and they shot him to death,” Wayne Owens said. “And then in prison, bragged about the noise he made when he died.”
Williams also was convicted of killing a couple and their adult child in a motel robbery a month after the Owens slaying.
Williams’ appeals have failed at every level, and a California judge signed his death warrant last month. Execution is scheduled for Dec. 13.
Bolstered by Williams’ supporters, clemency petitions have circulated and Web sites chronicling his case have sprung up. Celebrities have taken up his cause.
Peter Fleming, the attorney who wrote Williams’ clemency petition, said: “He’s had an impact on thousands of teachers, parents and youth. These are kids who don’t have an opportunity, and he’s telling them they have to fight through it.
“This is exactly the message that has to be sent. Clemency says we agree with that message. Killing him says we don’t.”
Actor Mike Farrell, who starred in the TV series “M*A*S*H,” said the effort to execute Williams did not take into account the change he has undergone in prison.
“It’s a simple, sterile, ministerial procedure in which a human life is scheduled to be expunged without consideration for his value, his change, his transformation,” Farrell said after the judge signed Williams’ death warrant.
Many supporters point to the 51-year-old’s accomplishments — such as the lauded cautionary books for children Life in Prison and the Tookie Speaks Out Against Gang Violence series.
Owens is less impressed.
“Remember what he did. It always comes down to people saying, ‘Well you know, he’s done all this stuff, and he’s done all of that stuff,’ but he’s not in prison for writing books,” Owens said. “That’s something that happened because he’s in prison.”
Owens, older than his brother by a year, said he and Albert grew up in Pomona, Calif., and moved a lot with their family. In the late 1960s, they moved to the Kansas City area, where Wayne Owens remains. Albert Owens did not stay as long, attending Ruskin High School less than a year.
Wayne Owens said that when Albert left, his brother said he needed a fresh start.
Albert Owens returned to Kansas City in the late ’70s and worked in Westport for a while. In the meantime, he had gotten married and divorced, had two daughters and served in the Army.
Albert Owens left town again, his brother said, to kick-start his life and get custody of his daughters, then about 6 or 7 years old.
“That was his total focus, that was all that he was interested in,” Wayne Owens said. “He was going to work at whatever it took to do that.”
It was a few months later that Albert Owens was gunned down.
Wayne Owens said he thinks much of the fight over Williams is political, with death-penalty opponents looking to the convicted killer as an ideal cause for their movement.
People on both sides of the debate have taken a sudden interest in Wayne Owens.
“There’s a lady with the Mennonites who wants to meet with me and heal me from my vengeance,” he said. “I said I have no vengeance. … But if there was a fire, you’d move your children away from that. It doesn’t mean fire’s bad, it’s just that you knew the potential for hurt.”
Owens said he had no plans to attend the execution.
“Oh, no. There’s no glory or joy or nobility in it,” Owens said.
Owens said Williams’ execution is not likely to provide him with any relief.
“No. … Whichever way it goes, it will carry sadness with it. This will be a no-win situation.”