Saturday, December 10, 2005

Time to Terminate Tookie

I have spoken in this space about the very poor justification for commuting the death sentence of Stanley "Tookie" Williams for the murders of four people in two separate events.

But Arnold Schwartzenegger seems to be entertaining the possibility of giving the man an unmerited break. He heard arguments from both sides about the wisdom (or lack thereof) of commuting Williams' sentence to life. And it seems to me that his consideration of same in such a serious manner is alarming in itself.

The arguments for clemency are cobbled together around the notion that Williams is a changed man. But the death penalty was not imposed with the provision that it could be pulled if the convict saw the error of his ways. Indeed, Karla Faye Tucker was put to death in Texas after admitting her crime and showing credible evidence of regret and repentance by becoming a born again Christian. But in 1998, then-Texas Governor, George W. Bush, refused to commute her sentence, focusing on the rule of law rather than the emotional pleas to spare her. As Bush's statement on Tucker notes, the rule of law--rather than some subjective sense of discomfort with executing someone who seems to have mellowed with age--is what must govern a grant of clemency.

Factors to be considered are the strength of the evidence against the convict, whether new evidence has been uncovered to cast doubt on that person's guilt, or the depravity of their heart at the time of the crime, among other things. Put another way, only factors inherent to the crime itself are appropriate considerations in any clemency decisions. And if Karla Faye Tucker's subsequent change of heart was irrelevant to the Governor's decision to allow her sentence to stand, the same ought to be the true for Williams. But that presumes that Williams' alleged epiphany is genuine.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney in a lengthy paper, focused on the particulars of the crime itself as they ought, but also on the misbegotten argument that Williams's alleged change of heart militates in favor of excusing him from death. Williams' behavior in prison raises an equally compelling argument in favor of maintaining the penalty imposed by the jury. The fact that Williams made threats to the jurors in his case, and more importantly refused to assist the police in gaining insight into the inner workings of the Crips street gang which he co-founded, exhibiting a greater loyalty to street violence and brigandage than to the law which he now claims to embrace.

But this issue has been brought to a head by the typical sympathists for deviants: the entertainment industry. These morally confused individuals who hold the values of the rest of the nation which they entertain in contempt are advocating for a murderer whose token efforts (and that's all they really are) to stem gang violence (in contrast to his refusal to provide inside information which could have provided the police the ability to break the back of the Crips) cause them to swoon. Hollywood and company ordinarily hold the justice system in low regard because as they believe that crime is the result of economic conditions, and is a justifiable response to living in a low income lifestyle. But I'll digress by asking the obvious: when was the last time one of these hypocrites gave away the majority of their fortunes to train the underprivileged in a trade or to provide a higher education so that the cycle of poverty can be broken? And where is their concern for the people Tookie murdered by his own hand and who have died as a result of his fetid gang legacy?

And now the fear is that these various entertainers are agitating the very gangs Tookie spawned, but whose violence he claims to decry in order to create a threat in the mind of Arnold Schwartzenegger: free Tookie or we'll get the gangs worked up, get them to riot, and create a real problem for you. A delightful dilemma from the left, but nothing new--give us what we want, or there will be violence and killing.

So what is to be made of this remarkably disingenuous and inconsistent position taken in favor of a reprobate criminal, who refuses to face what he has done? Tookie could fix it, of course, by directing Hollywood to stand down, and communicating to gang members that his circumstances and punishment are the wages of gang membership, and that gang members and those considering membership should take it as a lesson and a warning. His death would actually mean something and go to something greater than simply a single individual's punishment.

But I doubt that either he or Hollywood will do anything outside the political. It was easy to write some books. It is something different to do a greater act with real personal cost in order to deter gang activity.

So let's just get on with it and allow the sanction of the jury to go forward. Because if it doesn't, the message to gang members will be that they need only hold out, pretend to be reformed, and pray for Mike Farrell to come to their aid.

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