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UNITED NATIONS - 23 December 2005 / www.MaximsNews.com/
MaximsNews Contributor: Bianca Jagger
Publisher's Note: Bianca Jagger contributed the following speech that she gave earlier at Stanley Tookie Williams' funeral service, 20 Dec. 2005.
Governor Schwarzenegger decision to allowed Stanley Tookie Williams execution, revealed his disregard for human rights, due process and the U.S. constitution.
When I learned that there was going to be a public viewing of Stanley Tookie Williams' casket for friends and the public to pay their respect, I couldn't help thinking about the tragic irony, Williams had to be executed before he could be free to visit this church, I can imagine how often he must have dreamed about the possibility of wondering out of prison during those long lonely years in jail.
We must rejoice for
him, for he is Free at Last and no one can prevent him from being here not even Arnold Schwarzenegger.
On November 21, I met Stanley Tookie Williams at the San Quintin State prison, the first San Quintin condemned unit was established in 1893, North Block was built in 1934 and houses all males sentenced to death in the state of California.
The original condemned unit was originally designed to house 68 condemned prisoners, today, San Quintin houses approximately 6,000 prisoners, and approximately 600 death row prisoners.
That morning the weather was beautiful and the sun was shinning, a prison guard escorted me, we walked approximately 1,000 metres before we arrived at the death row unit.
I had expected to meet William's behind a barrier of glass and wire partition, as I had when I met Karla Fay Tucker and Gary Graham in death row in Texas.
Instead, I was going to meet Williams face to face, he was already inside a small cell with Barbara Becnel his co-author and long-time suppo
rter and Jesse Jackson. Before I entered, Williams put his hand behind his back through a small aperture in the metal door for the guard to hand cuffs him.
Once I was inside and the door was closed they removed the handcuffs, he reached out to say hello, Williams was tall and had muscular built, it was visible that he was once a body builder, he appeared calm and at peace with himself, I shook his hand and sat next to him.
I had so many questions and knew my time with him was limited. I told him I had recently listened to a debate about his case on National Public Radio (NPR) and felt very disturbed when his defender had to admit that he was not willing to apologise or express remorse for the murders for which he was convicted and condemned to death, I asked him why?
He answered in a calm and measured voice, "I am innocent, I did not commit the crimes for which I was sentenced to death, I cannot ask for forgiveness and express remorse for a murder I didn't commit, even if by refusing to
do so, I risk loosing my life, 'I cannot lie in order to live'" He looked me straight in the eyes, and he went on to say, "First and foremost I am innocent, there was no tangible evidence that linked me to the crime, the evidence was circumstantial, hearsay from a discredited informant, a bloody foot print, an indentation from an army boot, the indentation did not match my boots, no DNA no finger print that matched mine, at first the ballistic expert declared that the shell didn't match my shot gun.
"The prosecutor Robert Martin, told him to try again and this time the ballistic expert said 'it was similar' but at the hearing he said it 'was the same' they didn't use Photomicrography to examine the shells. 'My lawyers are asking to have the shells examined with photomicrograph, to establish what the human eye cannot distinguish' ".
I asked him why he thought he was convicted and sentenced to death for a crime he didn't commit, "I had a nasty reputation and my reputation was put on tr
ial, I had co-founded the street gang the Crips and had earned a bad reputation for being violent and beating up people, I was tried convicted and sentenced to death by an all white jury, the prosecutor Robert Martin dismissed three prospective black jurors, because he was seeking an all white jury, he is notorious for engaging in racial discriminations when composing a jury, in addition, I had an incompetent legal counsel" [he said on a lower voice].
"I have apologised on many occasions for my crimes and I genuinely have tried to redeem myself" how? I asked, "I have written nine books to bring young people away from a life of violence and street gangs, I educated myself and became an autodidact, as you can imagine this place has little room for rehabilitation, it was up to me to change".
"For the first 8 to 9 years I gave this place hell, I spent years in solitary confinement, my redemption came by virtue of my education, I reflected on my life, I developed a conscience. I have written nine boo
ks to encourage kids to stay away from gangs, I worked with churches, school, communities, to warn kids about the pitfall of gangster life. I wrote a "Peace Protocol". It was use to brake a truce between rival gangs in New Jersey and other states."
By the time I met him his case had receive widespread support among religious leaders, Nobel Prize winners, celebrities and international figures, and has his execution has further ignited the debate into America's barbaric, medieval and outdated death penalty policy.
That was my first visit to San Quintin, however, this was not my first visit to a prisoner on death row awaiting an imminent execution, I was anguished and upset at the thought that Stanley Tookie Williams had only 22 days to live and that his life clock was ticking away, I remember having the same disturbing thought when I visited Karla Fay Tucker and Gary Graham known as Shaka Sankofa on death row in Texas, both hoped George W. Bush then Texas Governor and the Texas Board of Pardons a
nd Parole would change their sentence from death to life imprisonment without parole.
They were both executed by lethal injection, I witnessed the shocking state sanction murder of Gary Graham, across America and throughout the world people believed he was innocent of the crime for which he was executed, he was convicted and sentenced to death base on a sole eyewitness testimony.
Karla Fay Tucker drew widespread opposition to her execution because of her rehabilitation, religious conversion and her work on the "Scare-straight" programme to help adolescent drug abusers, George W. Bush washed his hands as a modern Pontius Pilates and made a mocking remark about her in the media and the Board of Pardons and parole has never recommended that a case be commuted on the basis of mercy or rehabilitation and has never spared a death row prisoner from execution by lethal injection.
Stanley Tookie Williams' life depended on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Governor had the authority to: grant a
pardon if he believed Stanley Tookie Williams is innocent, grant clemency and commute his death sentence to life imprisonment without parole, if he believed that Williams was rehabilitated, no longer presented a threat to society and had showed remorse for the crimes for which he was sentenced to death.
In addition the Governor could have granted a reprieve to allowed William's lawyer's to present a discovery motion to "seek evidence that should have been disclosed at the time of his trial but was suppressed and continues to be suppressed by the prosecution".
Stanley Tookie Williams was on death row for nearly a quarter of a Century. In 1971 Williams co-founded the notorious Los Angeles street gang "the Crips" and in 1981 he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Since Williams' incarceration, he decried gang violence and made great efforts to reform the violent conduct of others.
He had written nine books to warn youth about the dangers of gang life. His enlightening work has
touched thousands of troubled youths and many have since turned away from gang violence. To those transformed by Williams' writings, he has come to represent a symbol of hope and purpose.
For his good works, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recommended that Mr. Williams would make a "worthy candidate" for an act of executive clemency.
Williams was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize every year since 2001. He was also awarded the U.S. presidential service award in 2005 for his outstanding work to benefit the country's youth.
In his appeal before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals William argued that Robert Martin, the prosecutor in his case, had engaged in "impermissible racial discrimination in the jury selection", Martin had removed all blacks from William's jury, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the US constitution.
In his appeals Williams points to two California Supreme Court cases that involved the same prosecutor where his actions are at iss
ue in People vs. Turner and People v. Fuentes, in both cases the California Supreme Court reversed the judgement, in People vs. Turner the court concluded, "the record demonstrated that the prosecutor used his peremptory challenges to strike Black prospective jurors in a racially discriminatory manner for the apparent purpose of obtaining an all-White jury to try this black defendant for crimes against white victims."
In the People v. Fuentes the court concluded that the prosecutor engaged in a pattern and practice of discriminating on the basis of race in the exercise of peremptory challenges".
California has embarked on an avalanche of executions right before a state senate bipartisan commission is set to examine the fairness of the application of the death penalty in the State.
The execution of Williams is but a glimpse into the broken system of justice in the State of California. Two other men are on the brink of being executed by lethal injection; their convictions were based on unre
liable informants, racially biased practices, and poor legal counsel.
Death sentences in California continue to rely on discriminatory practices and sub-standard legal representation.
California has no formal system of proportionality review in either the trial courts or the state supreme court, and as a result, no mechanism exists to bring the issue of racial discrimination before state courts. This lack of meaningful review creates fertile ground for an institutionalised pattern and practice of racial bias.
There is little question that in capital cases, a competent attorney can mean the difference between life and death. "Often defendants are sentenced to death not for committing the worst crimes but for having the worse lawyers".
Executing a person, because of the incompetence of their attorneys, instead of the gravity of their crime, only adds to the arbitrary and discriminatory nature of the death penalty. The failure of Williams' attorney to object to the jury selection s
hould not prejudice him from receiving relief from the courts.
In his Feb. 2, 2005 dissent on the 9th Circuit's decision to deny Stanley Tookie Williams recent request for relief (Williams v Wodford) Judge Rawlinson stated, "The trial attorney missed more than one opportunity to make that simple motion; he could have made the motion after the first strike, the second strike, the third strike, or at the conclusion of jury selection – when he knew that the prosecutor's challenges had resulted in an all white jury. Any way you slice it, counsel's failure to object constituted ineffective assistance of counsel, and we should not hesitate to say so."
The California State Senate-established a bi-partisan Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice. The Justice Commission has two years to identify the problems in the criminal justice system that lead to wrongful conviction and wrongful execution and to make specific recommendations to the Legislature and the Governor as to what is needed to make C
alifornia's criminal justice system just, fair, and accurate. The Commission has just begun to investigate these disturbing issues.
Governor Schwarzenegger exhibited total disregard for due process by allowing the execution of Stanley Tookie Williams, it is indefensible to allowed his execution while critical questions about the administration of justice in the state of California are being reviewed by a bipartisan committee. The Governor should have halted all executions until the investigation of the Justice Commission is completed.
Governor Schwarzenegger failed to exhibit leadership by denying clemency to Stanley Tookie Williams and allowing his execution. He failed to recognise that it is the human capacity for change and redemption that endows us all with the potential to become better people.
Killing Stanley Tookie Williams completed the cycle of violence and risked shutting out the light of redemption that exists in all of us. Governor Schwarzenegger failed to realise that the cri
minal courts in the U.S. are the institution least affected by the civil rights movement, the courts have failed, and are failing in their duty to ensure due process for all, the death penalty in the state of California is selectively applied, it feeds prejudices against minorities, the poor and those lacking political clout.
Today we should remember the defiant last words of Gary Graham. "I'm an innocent black man that is being murdered. What is happening here is an outrage for any civilised country. They are going to keep on lynching us for the next 100 years if you do not carry on [the] tradition of resistance. We may lose this battle but we will win the war. You must continue to demand a moratorium on all executions."
These words are a chilling reminder that Bush's USA and Schwarzenegger's state are home to racial division and bitter injustice. It is a place where life, liberty and happiness are all too often replaced by the pursuit of death, imprisonment and hatred.
rzenegger must declare a moratorium on all executions in California.
Bianca Jagger is the Council of Europe Goodwill Ambassador and a Member of the Executive Director's Leadership Council of Amnesty International USA.
For over 20 years Bianca Jagger has campaigned for human rights, social and economic justice and environmental protection throughout the world.