Death Row Inmate Hit By PR Attack

In this undated photo provided by the family of Stanley Williams, Stanley "Tookie" Williams poses for a photo in the visiting area of San Quentin State Prison in California.
AP (file)
As murderer and Crips co-founder Stanley Tookie Williams tries to stave off execution next month, California prison officials have launched an unusual counterattack against the notion that he has redeemed himself behind bars.

Williams and a childhood friend organized the Crips in 1971 in Los Angeles. In the years that followed, the gang did battle with its main rival, the Bloods, for territory and control of the drug trade, leaving hundreds dead. Hundreds of offshoots and copycat gangs with thousands of members have emerged across the nation.

The Corrections Department earlier this month posted a press release on its Web site about the upcoming execution, detailing Williams' crimes and asserting that he has been a gang leader while on death row at San Quentin Prison.

San Quentin spokesman Vernell Crittendon, speaking on behalf of the department, went further in an interview last week, saying he suspects Williams is orchestrating gangland crimes from his cell.

"I just don't know that his heart is changed," Crittendon said.

Williams, 51, has been behind bars since 1979, when he shot and killed four people during two robberies in Los Angeles. He has been on death row since 1981 and is set to die by injection Dec. 13 in what could be the biggest death-row cause celebre in California since capital punishment was reinstated in 1978.

Williams' supporters contend he has made amends for his crimes, and they are pleading with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to spare his life.

In prison, Williams has gained international acclaim for writing children's books about the dangers of gang life. He has been nominated repeatedly for the Nobel Peace Prize. And he has attracted a cadre of celebrity supporters, including Jamie Foxx, who played Williams in a TV movie, "MASH" actor Mike Farrell and rapper Snoop Dogg, who is scheduled to appear at a rally Saturday outside the prison.

The Los Angeles District Attorney's office is expected to respond to Williams' clemency request this week. But Los Angeles Police Department spokeswoman April Harding said there is no evidence of any illegal gang activity on Williams' part.

"None," she said. "His name doesn't come up."

Williams supporters called the prison system's 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, the inmate's spokeswoman.

In his 2004 memoir, "Blue Rage, Black Redemption," Williams said that his gangster life ended in 1992, and that he knew prison officials "would try at every turn to discredit me."

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for