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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 December 2005, 08:47 GMT
Time runs out for US ex-gangster
The co-founder of the Crips, one of the world's biggest and deadliest gangs, has been executed for the murder of four people.

BBC News website reporter Chris Summers visited Stanley "Tookie" Williams on Death Row in 2003.

"You see that light there on the roof? That light goes on to signal an execution has taken place."

Snoop speaks to Tookie rally
Williams' fate has sparked debate

Writer Barbara Becnel pointed out the simple red light on top of San Quentin prison overlooking San Francisco Bay as she escorted me on a visit to Stanley "Tookie" Williams, who she befriended a decade earlier.

It was the summer of 2003 and few people outside of California had heard of Tookie, or the transformation he had made from scowling, muscle-bound leader of Los Angeles' notorious Crips gang to articulate and thoughtful peacemaker.

Two years on his fate is a major talking point in the United States, sparking debate about the nature of redemption.

Williams' supporters include rapper Snoop Dogg - himself a former Crip - actors Jamie Foxx and Susan Sarandon and human rights campaigners Rev Jesse Jackson and Bianca Jagger.

Many of the victims' relatives say he has failed to apologise for the murders, which Williams denies.

Caged

On my visit to Williams, with Ms Becnel, we were locked into a cage, about eight feet square, and when the prisoner arrived he was led into the cage and then had his shackles removed from the other side of the bars.

The founder of the Crips
Stanley Williams, pictured in San Quentin
The Crips were created by Stanley Williams and his friend Raymond Washington in Los Angeles in 1971
There are now 12,000 Crips, 5,000 Bloods and 30,000 Latino gangsters in LA alone
About 250 gang-related murders in LA every year
Estimated 1,500 Crips in California jails, and another 1,000 Bloods
Williams recanted his gangland past in 1993 and began urging youngsters not to join gangs

It was a boiling hot day and Williams sweated profusely through his thin cotton uniform as he greeted us and ate the food we had brought him.

Quietly spoken, his speech was sprinkled with evidence of his self-taught vocabulary.

"I spend my time praying, exercising, reading books and studying the dictionary," he explained.

Williams and Ms Becnel teamed up in the mid-1990s to produce a number of books designed to educate children to avoid gangs like the Crips and the Bloods.

"I use my life as an analogy to show them that this is not the path to follow. I care. The majority who are dying [on the streets] are black kids," he told me.

But he said he felt the authorities would never forgive him for his past as co-founder of the Crips.

"My gangbanging days have been over for over a decade but I'm always going to be their Al Capone.

"They have kept me fossilised in the amber of a gang past. They thought of me as irredeemable and they thought I wouldn't change."

The stepmother of one of his victims, Albert Owens, said recently: "I believe in redemption but I do not believe Williams has been redeemed. I believe he is using it for his own manipulation."

Williams and his supporters have always maintained that he was innocent of the crimes of which he was convicted.

In 2003 he told me: "People say I have not apologised to the families of the victims. Why should I apologise to people when I didn't do it? That is an oxymoron."

In recent weeks his lawyers appealed to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In their petition for mercy they wrote: "This is about redemption, rehabilitation and hope. It is about a single man, a prisoner for a quarter century, who found purpose while facing death by execution."

Governor Schwarzenegger said he agonised over the decision, but in the end denied clemency.

"After studying the evidence, searching the history, listening to the arguments and wrestling with the profound consequences, I could find no justification for granting clemency," he said.



SEE ALSO
Courts uphold gang boss execution
12 Dec 05 |  Americas
Can a murderer ever be redeemed?
12 Dec 05 |  Americas
Stars line up in ex-gangster plea
28 Nov 05 |  Entertainment
Snoop Dogg to join prison rally
16 Nov 05 |  Entertainment
Winnie joins ex-gang leader plea
07 Dec 05 |  Americas

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