SAN FRANCISCO – Death penalty opponents rallied outside the Capitol on Thursday as lawyers for Stanley Tookie Williams took their case to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in a final effort to spare the Crips gang founder from execution.
A group of about 75 demonstrators chanted, "Love life, save Stan's life," as the governor met behind closed doors with defense lawyers and prosecutors to weigh the fate of a man condemned for four 1979 murders who claims he turned his life around on death row.
Clemency, which would commute a death sentence to life without parole, is likely the only avenue left for the gangster-turned-preacher of peace. Williams, 51, is scheduled to die Tuesday by lethal injection.
"We implore you, governor, to find it in your heart. Talk to God. Save Tookie so that he can save others' lives," said Donald Lacy, 46, of Oakland. Lacy said he wanted vengeance after his 16-year-old daughter was killed by gang members in 1997, but later decided forgiveness was more rewarding.
Schwarzenegger gave each side 30 minutes to present their cases. He previously said it would be a difficult decision, which he could make up to the moment of execution. He was not expected to rule Thursday, an aide said.
The last California governor to grant clemency was Ronald Reagan, who spared a mentally ill killer in 1967.
Last week, the California Supreme Court rejected a defense request to reopen Williams' case because of allegations that shoddy forensics connected him to at least three of the shotgun murders. The federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, also have ruled against Williams, who was convicted and sentenced to death in 1981.
If clemency is denied, there isn't much of a case to bring to the federal courts, where Fleming said he would have to demonstrate that Williams is innocent.
"We're not in a position to do that," defense attorney Peter Fleming Jr. said. "If we fail as counsel, a man dies."
Williams was convicted of killing Yen-I Yang, 76, Tsai-Shai Chen Yang, 63, and Yu-Chin Yang Lin, 43, in a robbery at a Los Angeles motel the family owned, and Albert Owens, 26, a 7-Eleven clerk gunned down in a separate robbery in Whittier.
Los Angeles County prosecutors, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer and family members of the four victims have said Williams should die and that Schwarzenegger should not grant clemency. Prosecutors and crime victim advocates have said the Crips gang that Williams co-founded with a friend in 1971 is responsible for thousands of unnecessary deaths.
Fleming said he will present Schwarzenegger with a letter written by Williams, which he declined to share.
Defense attorneys will argue that Williams should be spared because his teachings from behind bars -- through a series of books and talks by phone -- have convinced youths to avoid gangs.
At the rally outside the Capitol, Jason Stenson, 17, of Richmond said Williams could do more good alive than dead.
"There are people dying in the streets right now who could be saved by listening to the message of this man," he said.
On Wednesday, Philip Gasper, a philosophy professor at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, nominated Williams for a fifth time for the Nobel Peace Prize for Williams' efforts to quell gang violence from behind bars.