Prison officials launch unusual attack on death row inmate (Tookie Williams)

Prison officials launch unusual attack on death row inmate (Tookie Williams)

11/16/05 | Kim Curtis – Associated Press

SAN QUENTIN, Calif. (AP) – As the battle over whether to spare the life of Crips co-founder and convicted murderer Stanley Tookie Williams grows, prison officials have initiated an unusual counterattack against a man who supporters believe has turned his life around behind bars.

Before a celebrity-led effort begins to save him from a Dec. 13 execution, the people who have watched over Williams for two dozen years have questioned whether he’s truly redeemed, claiming he’s still calling the shots from death row for the Crips, one of the nation’s most notorious gangs.

The Corrections Department earlier this month posted a press release at its Web site about the upcoming execution. It gave biographical information about Williams, as well as a narrative about his crimes. In 1979, Williams shot and killed four people during two robberies in Los Angeles.

“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,” according to the release.

Daniel Vasquez, who served as warden at San Quentin from 1983 to 1993 and wrote a letter supporting clemency for the last death row inmate executed – said he’d 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.

The paragraph was removed a day after it was posted following a call from The Associated Press, but a San Quentin spokesman, speaking on behalf of the corrections agency, went even further in a subsequent interview.

“When you look at the totality of what has been occurring that leads me to seriously question this man of peace,” said Vernell Crittendon, who has worked at the prison nearly 30 years and regularly interacts with Williams and said he felt obligated to correct the inmate’s public image. “A con always will say one thing to you while the whole time he has another agenda. 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.”

Williams, 51, has gained international acclaim for writing children’s books about the dangers of gang life. He’s received several Nobel Prize nominations and he’s attracted a cadre of celebrity supporters including actor Jamie Foxx, who played Williams in a television movie, actor-activist Mike Farrell and rapper Snoop Dogg, who’s scheduled to appear at a rally Saturday outside the prison.

Williams’ death by lethal injection next month promises to be the highest profile execution in California since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978 and a brewing fight over clemency will end at the governor’s desk.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has not spared anyone’s life on death row, has not yet said whether he will schedule a clemency hearing.

Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, called the correction department’s allegations an effort to malign Williams and an abuse of power by the agency.

“I do see it as a very serious offense and one that is intended to help the governor make up his mind,” she said.

The Los Angeles District Attorney’s office was expected to respond to Williams’ clemency petition this week.

Crittendon cited a number of disciplinary infractions over the years, including several fights in the 1980s. Williams’ most recent rule violation was battery on an inmate in 1993.

Supporters of Williams called the 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 who serves as the inmate’s spokeswoman. “Some lives mean more than others.”

In his memoir, “Blue Rage, Black Redemption,” Williams said his gangster life ended in 1992, but said he knew prison officials would be reluctant to believe the change was genuine.

“They would try at every turn to discredit me, but I was game,” Williams wrote.

Crittendon further cited Williams’ refusal to formally renounce his gang membership, his willingness to share an exercise yard with Crips, his unusually large prison bank account and his younger son’s firm entrenchment as a trouble-making Crips member imprisoned for murder.

In his book, published last year, Williams addresses nearly all Crittendon’s accusations, saying that informing on gang members would “rip my dignity out of my chest.” He said he gets along with everyone on the yard and his son is trying to change his ways.

Stanley Williams Jr., 30, is currently serving a 16-year sentence for second-degree murder. He’s an active Crips member and remains housed in administrative segregation, Crittendon said.

Williams said his older son, Travon, 32, “spurned the enticements of the gang life.” He’s married, a father, owns a home and works for a social services agency, Becnel said.

As for his bank account, Crittendon said other high-profile inmates such as Scott Peterson usually get $10 or $20 checks. Williams receives checks for $500 or $1,000 at a time.

People who appreciate Williams’ work send him money, “It’s as simple as that,” Becnel said.

In an August 2004, a committee of prison officials noted Williams’ prior gang activity, but said they had not observed recent gang involvement, according to a report cited by Becnel. The committee commended Williams for his positive steps in the last 10 years.

When contacted about Williams’ alleged ongoing gang activity, Los Angeles Police Department spokeswoman April Harding said there was no evidence of his gang leadership.

As far as his illegal activities? “None,” she said. “His name doesn’t come up.”

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