December 12, 2005

Redemption Song

What does it take to get a man off Death Row?

Tookie Williams had probably the best case for a true in-jail turnaround of any inmate, ever. His crimes were unspeakably brutal and unconscionable, true, but few criminals have campaigned as steadily and as importantly as Williams to erase their past deeds and prevent others from repeating them.

This is all in addition to the fact that capital punishement is both ineffectual and immoral regardless of the morality of killing itself.

Edit: More here.


  1. Anonymous5:27 PM

    Other inmates who have had true "turnarounds" have admitted that they killed in the first place.

    Gov. Schwarzenegger's opinion denying Tookie clemency is pretty solid.

    No doubt about his guilt, and his "turnaround" seems pretty half-assed. Regardless of what you think of the death penalty, this isn't one of the strong clemency cases.

  2. Since reinstating the death penalty in 1978(?), CA has killed 12 people. I just have trouble believing Tookie is one of the 13 worst people to grace the California Penal System in the past 2 or 3 decades

  3. Anonymous5:40 PM

    That's the biggest problem I have with the death penalty--it doesn't necessarily get the worst of the worst.

    Even so, that's an argument for getting rid of the death penalty altogether, not so much one for sparing Tookie.

  4. Anonymous5:50 PM

    To me, it's rather simple. Williams has never admitted his crimes nor asked for forgiveness for committing them. No matter how sincere his turnaround or redemption, if you never admitted you did anything, or if you never begged those families ripped apart by your violence for forgiveness, how can it be said that you truly turned yourself around?

    You can argue the immorality of the death penalty, but the issue here is not whether he is the most deserving of death, but whether or not he is the most deserving of clemency. I would say that it is absurd that he is the most deserving, or even deserving at all, since he's never admitted his crimes.

  5. I find it absolutely horrible that Williams has not expressed remorse for his crimes nor asked for forgiveness from the families of those whom he killed.

    However, should expressions of remorse and asking for forgiveness be necessary preconditions for clemency? I don't think so and here's why.

    First, one must separate the trial and capital sentencing from the governor's decision to allow the actual execution by withholding clemency. I think this is not that much of a logical or legal stretch.

    Secondly, and following from that, one must realize that the governor must weigh far different things in his decision regarding clemency than a judge or a jury should when sentencing or recommending sentencing. In short, the governor has the responsibility and the duty to examine all parts of the inmate's life, whereas the judge and jury need primarily if not only at the crime itself. Therefore, any and all judicial opinions regarding the specifics of the case may serve as a guide, but not a foundation for the governor's decision. The courts judge a man's crime, but the governor's decision is one based on his life.

    Remorse and asking for forgiveness should factor into the governor's decision, but they need not be preconditions for clemency if there are strong reasons to grant clemency not tied directly to the corpus of the crime.

    I believe Williams presents such a case.

    I believe, but I could be mistaken, that Williams' sentence could be commuted to life, correct? If so, my first reaction is to say, it's an execution, that's wrong prima facie. Barring that, I believe Williams should have been given clemency for the reasons above with the knowledge that clemency would not also be a release.

    As for Schwarzenegger's excuse that Williams's efforts have been ineffectual, that's a remarkably irresponsible thing to say. Surely the ineffectuality of California law enforcement should be held to greater fault than the rhetoric of some children's books in accounting for the continued presence of gang violence. I mean, one of the reasons the man is being executed is because his books weren't good enough? That's pretty sorry on the Governator's part.

  6. Anonymous10:35 PM

    "withholding clemency"???

    Clemency is not something the governor should be expected to give, so he's not really withholding something. Withholding implies a reasonable expectation that it was coming.

  7. It has absolutely nothing to do with expectations. If something is in my power to give and I am currently in a situation where I am empowered to disburse something though not required to do so, the choice not to give it is an act of withholding.

    There is nothing in the definition of the word "withhold" that implies contrariness to expectations or obligations as a necessary condition for the use of the word.

    I could have used the phrase "refrain from granting clemency"—would that have suited you better? To me, they are synonymous.