Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word

Clemency for Stanley “Tookie” Williams? Don’t count on it. With a Dec. 13 execution date looming, the governor agreed to a clemency hearing next week for the Crips gang founder and cause celebre, who was convicted of four 1979 murders.

But his lawyers have one big problem: He’s innocent. Or so he’s always said. His claim of innocence has been of little help on appeal, and can only hurt him at next week’s hearing: How can he possibly atone for a crime he denies he ever committed?

His clemency petition (click for .pdf) illustrates his plight. Though it notes that Williams maintains he’s innocent, and takes a swipe at the circumstantial nature of the evidence against him, it doesn’t — it can’t — claim he harbors hopes of searching for the real killer. But neither can the petition express Williams’ contrition. Instead, under the heading “atonement,” his lawyers contend he’s atoned for the toll that gang violence has taken on victims everywhere.

Those pushing for clemency point to Williams’ transformation and his role in persuading kids to reject gang life, noting that he has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize (but hey, who hasn’t?). It’s a compelling case — especially if you already oppose the death penalty.

But Schwarzenegger can’t sell the public on clemency if Williams can’t say he’s sorry. For want of remorse, his cause is lost.

— Greg Mitchell


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