Stars Rally Behind Gang Leader

Rapper Snoop Dogg raises his fist in protest outside of the San Quentin State Penitentiary at a rally for death row inmate Stanley Tookie Williams in San Quentin, Calif. on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2005.
AP
Jamie Foxx stepped into the spotlight at his latest movie premiere with more than the usual publicity drill in mind.

Don't let it happen, the actor urged — don't let the state of California execute Stanley Tookie Williams, the convicted murderer and Crips gang co-founder who's been recast behind bars in the role of peacemaker.

Foxx is not alone. An unusually varied collection of Hollywood stars and other famous names is trying to persuade Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that Williams — who has become a celebrity in his own right — can do more for society alive than dead.

Williams' supporters range from the holy (Archbishop Desmond Tutu) to the street-wise (rapper Snoop Dogg, himself once a Crip).

Whether a movie star governor is more inclined to consider their pleas for clemency is debatable. But the chorus is only growing louder as Williams' Dec. 13 execution by lethal injection approaches.

His supporters cite Williams' efforts to curb youth gang violence, including nine children's books and an online project linking teenagers in America and abroad. A Swiss legislator, college professors and others repeatedly have submitted his name for Nobel peace and literature prizes.

Last weekend, Snoop Dogg told about 1,000 people rallying outside San Quentin State Prison that Williams' activism has touched him.

"His voice needs to be heard," said the musician, whose new song, "Real Soon," touts Williams' anti-gang efforts.

At the rally, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone reported that the inmate's supporters promised growing demonstrations over the next three weeks, but there are those who remain unconvinced Williams has changed.

"He has multiple incidents where he has been involved in violent acts while here on death row at San Quentin – batteries, assault on staff," said Lt. Vernell Crittendon, a San Quentin Prison spokesman.

On Monday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Bianca Jagger, a death penalty opponent and former wife of rocker Mick Jagger, visited San Quentin. Jackson said he prayed with Williams, promising, "'We are going to fight for you and we are going to win."

Foxx, who played Williams in "Redemption," a 2004 movie which brought the death row inmate's story to a wider audience, used the New York premiere of "Jarhead" to issue his plea.

In a jailhouse interview last week, Williams said he is unimpressed by his prominent supporters ("I'm blase about everything") and relies on his attorneys to evaluate the benefit of efforts on his behalf.

Hollywood's political and social activism has been known to provoke criticism. But Williams said he is unconcerned his famous boosters could create a backlash that might sway Schwarzenegger against him.

"In the position I'm in, I don't see how anybody can hurt," he said. "The truth is the truth no matter where it comes from."

Williams, 51, who saw the notorious gang he co-founded with a childhood friend spawn copycats worldwide, denies committing the 1979 murders that put him on death row. He was convicted of killing a convenience store worker and, days later, killing two motel owners and their daughter during a robbery.

The crimes Williams was accused of were "heinous," said former "M-A-S-H" star Mike Farrell, a longtime death penalty opponent. But Williams has made "an extraordinary transformation," said Farrell, who's lobbied for him for several years.

In apparent recognition of the power of the pro-Williams movement, the state Department of Corrections launched an unusual counterattack questioning the sincerity of his anti-gang conversion and alleging he remains involved with the Crips.
  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for CBSNews.com