Skip to comments.Politics likely to foil push for clemency
Posted on 11/30/2005 7:29:18 AM PST by SmithL
SACRAMENTO - Despite the celebrity push to spare the life of Crips co-founder Stanley "Tookie" Williams, his fate may be sealed by political reality.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has called a private hearing next week to consider granting Williams clemency. But most political observers say that despite the governor's show of concern, he has little to gain and much to lose by preventing the Dec. 13 execution.
For all the support Williams has garnered as an anti-gang activist, he is still a convicted murderer in a state where two out of three voters support the death penalty. Williams, 51, was convicted of killing four people in 1981.
"There would be significant fallout if he granted clemency," said Kevin Spillane, a GOP consultant.
He said the political damage would extend from Schwarzenegger's Republican base, which has stuck with him through a bruising year, to the moderate Democrats and independents he must win back to regain majority support.
It would also further alienate law enforcement officials, who have vigorously opposed clemency and are already angry with the governor over his attempts to change the public employee pension system.
No California governor has granted clemency to a death row inmate since Ronald Reagan did so in 1967 for Calvin Thomas, who was brain damaged.
Governors in other states have shown such leniency, though usually only when they were on the way out of office.
For example, Republican Gov. George Ryan of Illinois commuted the death sentences of 164 inmates two days before he left office, saying the state's capital punishment system was "haunted by the demon of error." He had placed a moratorium on the death penalty earlier in his term, after 13 death row inmates were exonerated.
In California, support for the death penalty has been overwhelming since the mid-1970s, according to the nonpartisan Field Poll. It peaked at 83 percent in the mid-1980s.
Last year, California voters supported it 68 percent to 26 percent. That includes large majorities of all racial groups except blacks, who were split 45 percent in favor to 38 percent against, with 17 percent saying they had no opinion.
Some argue that Republicans like Schwarzenegger are better able to buck public opinion than Democrats, who are more vulnerable to charges that they are soft on crime. Schwarzenegger desperately needs to improve his image among liberals and moderates, who deserted him as his war with public employee unions escalated. The clemency could appeal to a small section of that group, mostly liberals.
"Ordinarily, one would say, 'What are the political benefits of sparing a murderer?' This may be different for this governor because at the moment he's got nowhere to go but up," said Frank Zimring, a law professor at UC Berkeley.
He said that granting mercy to a black man on death row could be construed as an apolitical and courageous act by a governor who is trying to overcome the perception that he has become a typical partisan pol.
"The whole idea that he might do something this conscience-driven," Zimring said, "would be seen as hot news."
But the death penalty is still supported by 54 percent of Democrats and 67 of independents, not to mention the governor's Republican base, 87 percent of which supports the death penalty.
The Williams case is also complicated by his refusal to admit the crimes that have landed him in prison: the horrific murders of Albert Owens, a 26-year-old clerk he robbed at a 7-Eleven, and a family he robbed at a motel, Tsai-Shai Yang, Yen-I Yang, and Ye-Chen Lin.
But Williams has steadfastly refused to do so, saying he was the victim of a racist prosecutor and an all-white jury.
Williams has apologized for being a gang leader. His supporters say he has been transformed by his ordeal in prison and proved it by spending the past decade crusading against gang violence. He has been previously nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and the Nobel Prize for literature.
Some liberal politicians, citing Williams' good works, have urged Schwarzenegger to show him mercy.
State Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, has been the most outspoken, though as a result, she said, a law enforcement group has threatened to withhold its endorsement of her.
She said that she hoped Schwarzenegger, who reinstated the word "rehabilitation" in the prison system's formal name, could resist that pressure.
"I've worked with him personally," she said. "He believes people deserve second chances."
She said the governor should examine Williams' case free of politics. But she acknowledged the political reality that granting him a reprieve would bring consequences.
"Absolutely, there's a political downfall for this governor for granting clemency."
I love this sentence. If it wasn't for those bloodthirsty, stupid common people "Tookie" would be spared.
The built-in assumption of the opening sentence is that celebrities know best.
Keep an eye out for all the slobbering "news" reports that Irving "Man Slut / HIV+ / Magic" Johnson endorsed Democrap Phil Angelides for Governor because "a governor needs to be qualified for his job."
LIE. One juror, according to his death certificate, was indeed black.
Tookie has had clemency for 24yrs.
I agree, and this piece makes me a little less convinced of it, but I still think Ahnold will cave. He's proven himself a social liberal before, and in a case this "controversial," I think he'll take the coward's way out and grant clemency.
Tookie should take a ride on the Flat Line. But he won't.
POLITICS might stand in the way? Huh?
How about "NEED FOR JUSTIICE likely to foil push for clemency"?
How about "HEINOUS CRIMINAL ACTS likely to foil push for clemency"?
Oh, wait, it's the Contra Costa Times. THAT explains it.
If you disagree with liberals, you are playing politics.
If Schwarzenegger gives Tookie a pass, he's finished.
What do they mean he's appologized?? I wish the press could get their stories straight, just once! I read the DA's report to the Governor -- all 57 pages and it's a real eye-opener after you read all the media spin and listen to the Hollywierd spin on top of it and then have the likes of liberal Alan Colmes saying things that are totally untrue about the case on H&C -- and Sean doesn't call him on it!
The Governor has two choices, but only one of them can be seen as conscience-driven?