Stanley “Tookie” Williams is going to die at midnight tonight unless a miracle happens. It would take a miracle now that Governor Schwazenegger has refused to grant him clemency. Schwarzenegger’s decision doesn’t surprise me. Neither does his justification: Williams was convicted of four wanton murders and has never admitted guilt much less apologized. Yes, he has done good things in prison since then, but they don’t overcome the magnitude of his savage crimes or the fact that he won’t own up to them. There is no true redemption without a remorseful admission of guilt.
For his part, Williams continues to deny that he committed the murders and claims to have too much integrity to lie even if it could save his life. This sounds very noble, if it’s true. But I frankly don’t believe that it’s true. I believe that Williams committed those murders and has lied about it ever since.
Yet, I still believe that Williams should not be executed. I believe this not only because I categorically believe that the death penalty is wrong, but also because I believe that Williams can do more good for society by living the rest of his natural life in prison than by dying tonight of homicide committed by my state. For years Williams has written and spoken with moving eloquence to adults and children against violent crime. He has modeled redemption to the masses. And countless adults and children have listened to his words and watched his example and quite possibly been steered away from or out of a life of crime by what they’ve heard and seen. What will Williams’ death steer them away from? From not committing wanton murder? Did capital punishment stop anyone from coldly murdering those four innocent people Williams was found guilty of murdering? Will coldly killing people for coldly killing other people stop anyone from murdering in the future?
Many have argued that Williams’ words against violent crime are a ruse aimed at sparing his life or even getting him released from prison someday. Yet, it looks to me as though he never had a real chance of being released even if he’d been allowed to live. And even if his speeches and books against crime were mere ploys to save his hide, the fact is, he made those speeches and wrote those books and surely helped a lot of people and made all but the most hardened cynics among us believe just a little bit more in the possibility of redemption. What would be so terrible about Governor Schwarzenneger granting clemency to Williams and thereby encouraging others sentenced to die or spend the rest of their lives in prison to at least go through the motions of having reformed by trying to help other people in the compelling ways that Williams has?
I don’t condemn Scharwezenneger for his decision. But I wish he would have granted Williams clemency and done what he could at this pivotal moment to further society’s idealism instead of its cynicism. I wish he would not have allowed a fifth precious and productive human life to be destroyed by crimes committed long ago.