Change the Conversation about Tookie to the merits of the Case

Alex A. Alonso for Street Gangs
December 6, 2005

tookie_2005It was recently revealed that the State of Texas executed a man in 1993 that may have been innocent. Ten years after Ruben Cantu (b. December 5, 1966 – Aug. 24, 1993) was executed the only witness to the crime told the Houston Chronicle that he’s sure that the person who shot him was not Cantu, but he felt pressured by police to identify Cantu, 17, at the time, as the killer. Juan Moreno, an illegal immigrant at the time of the shooting, said his damning in-court 1985 identification was based on his fear of authorities and police interest in Cantu.

Four days after the Bexar County jury delivered its guilty verdict, Cantu wrote this letter to the residents of San Antonio: “My name is Ruben M. Cantu and I am only 18 years old. I got to the 9th grade and I have been framed in a capital murder case.” How many times have we heard convicts say this? But it turns out that he may have been telling the truth. With so many death row inmates proclaiming their innocence, his message was one among many that fell on deaf ears.

With new revelations along with numerous documents from the case, the story is clear that those involved in Cantu’s trial, including the judge, prosecutor, head juror and defense attorney now acknowledge that his conviction seems to have been built on omissions and lies. Is anyone taking responsibility? Not just yet, but they are all saying the correct statements. Miriam Ward, the jury forewoman, stated that an innocent person was killed, and Sam Millsap Jr., the former D.A. of Bexar County said that he never should have sought the death penalty in a case based on the testimony of an eyewitness who identified Cantu only after police officers showed him Cantu’s photo three separate times.

It appears that the San Antonio Police had a vendetta against Cantu who had a run-in with them on March 1, 1985 where he shot and wounded an off duty cop in a bar fight. It appears that officer De La Luz, had threatened Cantu by showing him a gun, and Cantu responded by shooting De La Luz, whom he didn’t know was a cop. That case was dropped against Cantu because of police misconduct in the investigation, but during the 1980s, the San Antonio police was mired in scandals related to drug-dealing and overzealous officers who regularly engaged in street justice. Neighborhood officers knew and disliked Cantu, and they had arrested his older brothers on drug and theft charges previously, but they had never successfully pinned a crime on Cantu and because of this, police were quick to link Cantu to a murder that occurred in his neighborhood on Nov. 8, 1984.

After the shooting, San Antonio police pressured Moreno into identifying Cantu as the assailant, even though he had repeatedly stated that he didn’t do it. Eventually Moreno testified against Cantu, and with that as the main evidence he was found guilty, sentenced to death and executed in 1993. This is a crucial issue with Stanley Tookie Williams’ execution looming, which is scheduled for December 13, 2005. Media voices talking about execution of Williams’; especially on the airwaves, are not talking about the evidence that convicted Williams. Most of the people advocating for his execution have not spent much time discussing the trial & evidence and that goes for most of the talking heads on 790 KABC and 640 KFI in Los Angeles. There is much more talk about his role as a Crip gang member, which is absolutely irrelevant in his 4 murder 2 robbery convictions. Additionally, the crime he was convicted for was not gang-related and his gang past did not come up during the trial, so why so much discussion about his gang involvement?

The discussion should shift to whether they are satisfied with the evidence presented in his 1981 trial that sealed his death. Although Williams’ appeals have been unsuccessful, that’s not uncommon with death row cases. Ruben “Hurricane” Carter, Juan Melendez, and even Ruben Cantu filed numerous unsuccessful appeals. Below is an examination of the pros and cons of the Stanley Tookie Williams case from his perspective.

Prosecutor Martin removed 3 black jurors that were to serve in the Tookie case and did not replace them with blacks. The goal with jury selection is to select a jury that would reflect the community where Williams is from. This would never be allowed in a case today, especially if the defendant was a high profile personality. The DA’s report suggests that there was one black on the jury, William McLurkin, whose death certificate states that he was black, but it is also believed that he was Filipino and born in the Philippines. Juror #2 stated that the jury appeared to be all white to her (John & Ken Show, December 12, 2005) Stanley Williams did purchase a shotgun in 1974 and this evidence was used against him in trial. The person who sold the gun to Williams testified in court, and there is no doubt that Williams owned a shotgun.
The trial was moved from Los Angeles to Torrance, a city with a much higher white population in 1981. Change of venue from Los Angeles to Torrance would not be allowed today, because in a change of venue, the city’s demographics should be similar to the new location. Albert Coward’s testimony is probably the strongest, being that he stated he was with Williams when Albert Owens was killed in the 7-11. He provided compelling details about that evening and has never recanted his statements.
George Oglesby, the jailhouse informant that testified that Williams admitted details to him about the crime is not a credible witness. He received favors from the police in exchange for testifying against suspects and was a know perjurer. He had done this before, and when he was placed near Williams cell, he was facing his own murder charges. If the defense knew more about Oglesby, he wouldn’t have been allowed to testify. Johnny Garcia, who worked the night shift at a convenience store testified that he observed 4 black males in a station wagon the night Albert Owens was killed. His testimony supports Coward’s testimony, but Garcia never identified Williams.
James & Ester Garrett testified that Williams admitted to the crime. They were also in possession of Williams’ shotgun and turned it over to the police. Garrett was investigated for murder and was facing serious criminal charges and had motivation to testify against Williams. They had perjured themselves in court and continued their lives as career criminals. Tony Sims was an accomplice in the Owens killings and identified Williams as the shooter. Sims was convicted for his role in the murder and was sentenced to life without parole. He retold the story in 1997, and again in 2002 for the record but he never testified in court during the trial. Although his statements are incriminating, he never said them in front of a jury.
Samuel Coleman, who was one of the main witnesses against Williams, has recanted his entire testimony and in 1994 stated that he was forced to make those statements by the police after they assaulted him. The DA’s report does not even reference Coleman’s original testimony which led to Williams’ conviction. Williams’ plot to escape from the LA County Jail is well documented with notes in his own writing. Although this is irrelevant in his murder trial, it has complicated his position of innocence. Williams has claimed that he did not write those notes, but a hand writing expert compared his writing to those prison notes and made a match. You can also examine Williams’ own writing when he purchased his shotgun in 1974 and will notice similarities in how he dots his “i.”
The ballistic test by Deputy James Warner that attempted to match Williams’ shotgun to the one expended shell that was found at the Brookhaven Motel was inconclusive. On a second ballistic test requested by DA Robert Martin, was returned with a better match to the one expended shell. This is the only physical evidence used against Williams and it is weak. Williams’ behavior in court and his threats to the jury after he was convicted did not help his case and the future appeals process. His reaction to the jury has come up by the prosecution repeatedly as a way to demonstrate that Williams is not only guilty of the crimes, but also not worthy of clemency. His verbal assault of the jury hampered his chances of successful appeal.
The incriminating statements made by Williams to the LAPD were supposedly recorded but they have not been produced or provided by them. Williams has claimed “inadequate counsel” while he was represented by the highly acclaimed attorney Joe Ingber whom he personally chose, but Ingber was a private attorney with a successful reputation.
At the Brookhaven Motel, there was a boot print in the blood of one of the Yang victims. That bloody boot print was not connected to Williams, nor was it ever identified. Who does this print belong too? Williams claimed in a petition that he had inadequate counsel because the lawyers didn’t argue “mental diminished capacity” as part of his defense, which would contradict him not being at the scene of the crime.
Williams conspired to escape from the LA County Jail in 1980, and the prosecution produced writings and diagrams in Tookie’s handwriting that support this claim. Although this escape plan is not directly related to the 4 murders, the plan included some violence that certainly influenced the jury.

The information above does not make any claims towards the guilt or innocence of Williams. The purpose is to provide an overview of the evidence on both sides, which to some suggest that there is some doubt. There is not much conversation on the credibility of the witnesses, and there is not a discussion on the physical evidence against Williams, and there is no mention of how often appeals courts overwhelmingly reject redoing capital cases, even in the face of compelling evidence. Ask Ruben Cantu about that.

The conversation on Williams is focused on his gang background and his role with the Crips. The crimes for which Williams was convicted for were not gang related, nor was his gang activity mentioned in his trial, but the media is fascinated by discussing this aspect of Williams’ life. I have been interviewed over a dozen times in the last month about Williams, and the bulk of the questions are about the Crips, his role in the Crips and why have the Crips become so popular. I hope that the conversation can shift to the crime that occurred, the victims that suffered this tragedy, the arrest, trial and evidence that lead to Williams’ death sentence, and whether we are satisfied with the level of evidence used to convict and condemn this man.

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