- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 29, 2005

LOS ANGELES

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 Oscar-winning actor urged — don’t let the state of California execute Stanley “Tookie” Williams, the convicted murderer and Crips gang co-founder who has been recast behind bars in the role of peacemaker.

Mr. Foxx is not alone. An unusually varied collection of Hollywood stars and other famous people 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 streetwise (rapper Snoop Dogg, himself once a Crip).

Whether a movie-star governor is more inclined to consider their pleas for clemency is debatable. Yet the chorus is 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 the Nobel Peace Prize and the Nobel for literature.

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.

Last week, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Bianca Jagger, a death penalty opponent and former wife of rocker Mick Jagger, visited San Quentin. Mr. Jackson said he prayed with Williams, promising, “‘We are going to fight for you, and we are going to win.”

Mr. Foxx, who played Williams in “Redemption,” a 2004 movie that 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. However, Williams says he is unconcerned that his famous boosters could create a backlash that might sway Mr. Schwarzenegger against him.

“In the position I’m in, I don’t see how anybody can hurt,” he says. “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 of which Williams was accused were “heinous,” but he has made “an extraordinary transformation,” says former “M*A*S*H” star Mike Farrell, a longtime death-penalty opponent. Mr. Farrell has lobbied for Williams for several years.

In apparent recognition of the power of the pro-Williams movement, the state Department of Corrections has initiated an unusual counterattack questioning the sincerity of his anti-gang conversion and claiming that he remains involved with the Crips.

Lora Owens, stepmother of victim Albert Owens, says she opposes clemency and resents the celebrity involvement.

“I think most of them are abusing their popularity and their access to the media,” she says. “It’s an agenda. If they looked at the facts, then they’d realize Williams has not done anything to deserve clemency.”

Williams’ link to the entertainment world was cemented with the biographical movie shown on TV and at film festivals, including Robert Redford’s Sundance. Several of those involved in “Redemption,” including Mr. Foxx and co-star Lynn Whitfield, have become backers.

Williams’ support is particularly deep among blacks but extends much further, Mr. Farrell says. Working with Bishop Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Mr. Farrell gathered signatures from more than 100 religious leaders, lawmakers and others of prominence for a clemency request that went to the governor Nov. 21. Among those whose names are attached: NAACP Chairman Julian Bond; U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat; Harry Belafonte; Bonnie Raitt; and Russell Crowe.

So far, Mr. Schwarzenegger hasn’t said much about the execution other than that he views it as a complex subject.

“It’s never a fun thing to do. You’re dealing with someone’s life,” the governor told reporters.

Williams’ lawyers have requested a meeting with the governor but haven’t gotten a commitment.

The famous have long rallied to high-profile prisoners, including American Indian activist Leonard Peltier, convicted of killing two FBI agents, and Jack Henry Abbott, whose jailhouse letters to novelist Norman Mailer were published as “In the Belly of the Beast.”

Abbott’s release, which Mr. Mailer supported largely because of the convict’s writing talent, ended tragically when he fatally stabbed a young man six weeks after being released. Back in prison, Abbott committed suicide.

Such celebrity campaigns rankle advocates for victims. Nancy Ruhe, executive director of the National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children, argues that they glamorize a man like Williams and confer unwarranted role-model status on him.

“He becomes someone to look up to,” Miss Ruhe says. “There are so many people in our country you can look up to, but most certainly it should not be someone who has murdered several people.”

If Mr. Schwarzenegger commutes Williams’ sentence to life imprisonment, it would be the first time a California governor has done so since 1967. That’s when Ronald Reagan — the last actor-turned-politico to govern California — spared the life of Calvin Thomas, a 27-year-old man convicted in a firebombing that had killed his girlfriend’s toddler son. His lawyers argued that Thomas was brain-damaged.

Comparing Mr. Schwarzenegger and Mr. Reagan, veteran political reporter and Reagan biographer Lou Cannon sees a key difference: The future U.S. president had quickly made the transition from actor to leader, while Mr. Schwarzenegger, as Mr. Cannon sees it, is still struggling with the metamorphosis.

“I don’t think he’s going to be dismissive of these [stars], because they’re from his community, but ultimately, that’s not going to make his decision,” Mr. Cannon says. “He’ll decide it on the merits.”

Miss Whitfield, who came to know Williams while preparing to film “Redemption,” says those merits are self-evident.

“No one has said, ‘Can you just open up the gates and let Stan be a free man in the world?,’” she says. “But he at least can continue to do the work he’s doing.”


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