On the surface, Stanley Tookie Williams might go down in history as a dangerous Los Angeles gang leader whose deadly deeds led to his execution, but there is much more to the story of the infamous legend.
Williams founded the notorious Crips gang in 1969 with childhood friend Raymond Washington. The Crips went on to become one of the country’s most powerful criminal organizations.
Here are 10 things to know about the life and death of the leader of the LA Crips, Tookie Williams.
Williams was 17 when he met Washington in 1969 and the teens formed an alliance that became known in Los Angeles as the “Crips,” Biography.com reported. The Crips initially had about 30 members, but they soon splintered off into the Westside and Eastside Crips. By 1979, the Crips had grown into a statewide organization known throughout California for its violence and criminal activity. That same year, Washington was shot and killed in a Los Angeles shooting.
Some blamed his murder on a fraction of the Crips called the Hoover, named because they originated around 52nd and Hoover streets in South Los Angeles. This led to a war between the Hoover and other Crips factions.
In 2004, there were 150,000 gang members in the Los Angeles area, divided between the Crips and their rivals, the Bloods. At least gang 5,000 members have been killed, The Guardian reported.
Early in the morning of Feb. 28, 1979, Williams and three friends had been riding around the city smoking PCP-laced cigarettes and looking to “make some money.” They tried unsuccessfully to rob a restaurant and liquor store. Eventually, they headed to a 7-Eleven where Albert Lewis Owens, a 26-year- old Army veteran and father of two, was working the overnight shift. Williams and his friends robbed the 7-Eleven, emptying the cash register drawer of $120. Williams shot Owens twice but later denied killing him, Biography.com reported.
Eleven days later, Williams and another man bum-rushed the Brookhaven Motel and shot to death 76-year old Thsai Shai Young, his 63-year old wife, Yen-I Yang and their 43-year old daughter, Ye Chen Lin. Williams took $50 in cash and left. He also denied this shooting and claimed he was framed by other Crips members.
In 1981, Williams was tried and convicted in the Los Angeles Superior Court of all four murders plus two counts of robbery. He was sentenced to death and sent to death row in San Quentin State Prison. Prison life was rough for Williams. By the mid-1980s, he had been given six-and-a-half years in solitary confinement for multiple assaults on prison guards and fellow inmates.
After spending two years in solitary confinement, Williams said he started to examine his life choices. He began speaking out against gang violence. In 1994, he was released from solitary and went to work writing a book.
In 1996, with co-author Barbara Cottman Becnel, Williams published the first of eight “Tookie Speaks Out Against Gang Violence” anti-gang books aimed at children.
In 1997, Williams wrote an apology for his role in creating the Crips. “I am no longer part of the problem. Thanks to the Almighty, I am no longer sleepwalking through life,” he wrote.
He also wrote “Life in Prison,” a short non-fiction work explaining the horrors of jail.
In 2002, Mario Fehr, a member of the Swiss parliament, nominated Williams for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work against gang violence. Although he never won, Williams would be nominated for the honor six times.
In 2004, Williams helped form the Tookie Protocol For Peace — a peace agreement between deadly gang rivals the Crips and the Bloods. President George W. Bush send Williams a letter commending him.
That same year, his book “Blue Rage, Black Redemption: A Memoir” was published. Williams used the book to warn kids away from gangs. His story was made into a TV movie, “Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story” starring Jamie Foxx.
Williams lost several appeals for clemency filed by his lawyers. The final blow in his efforts to get off death row came when then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger denied him clemency.
Schwarzenegger met with Williams. Defenders and prosecutors each had 30 minutes to present their case to the governor. Schwarzenegger ultimately denied clemency citing the forensic evidence linking him to the killings in 1979.
Some observers say it was a legal error on the part of Schwarzenegger.
“He broke faith with the understandings of those who wrote our Constitution and damaged the intricate balance of our constitutional government,” wrote Austin Sarat, a professor of jurisprudence and political science at Amherst College, in a 2005 opinion piece for The Jurist.
Denying Williams clemency was a “miscarriage of justice,” said Sarat, who wrote the book “Mercy on Trial: What It Means to Stop an Execution.
“Casually dismissing Williams’s contention that he had been ‘reformed and…redeemed for his violent past,’ Governor Schwarzenegger’s treated his own clemency power as a narrow and limited one,” Sarat wrote.
Williams gained support from numerous celebrities and anti-death penalty activists including Mike Farrell, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Jamie Foxx, who argued that Williams’ work and redemption on death row should have been rewarded with a reprieve from execution.
Hip-hop artist Snoop Dogg, a former Crips member, urged Gov. Schwarzenegger to grant clemency, CBS News reported.
“Stanley`Tookie’ Williams is not just a regular old guy, he’s an inspirator,” Snoop told a crowd of about 1,000 outside the main gate of San Quentin State Prison. “His voice needs to be heard.”
Williams, 51, was executed by lethal injection on Dec. 13, 2005, at San Quentin State Prison.
Williams’ funeral was heavily guarded as it was attended by past and present gang members. Celebrities also turned out en masse.
T-shirts with Williams’ picture were sold by vendors and a large TV was set up in the parking lot to allow the overflow crowd to watch the service, according to NBC News.
Williams asked for his remains to be cremated and the ashes scattered over South Africa, according to his will.
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Snoop Dogg read a poem he wrote at the funeral that lasted more than four hours.
“It’s nine-fifteen on twelve-thirteen and another Black king will be taken from the scene,” Snoop Dogg told mourners, reciting a poem about the execution. The line “I don’t believe Stan did it” drew applause.
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