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Californians React to Execution of Former Gang Leader

The execution of a former gang leader in California has spurred debate over the death penalty. Mike O'Sullivan reports, convicted murderer Stanley Tookie Williams was put to death early Tuesday, and Californians had mixed reactions.

There were no outbreaks of violence in minority neighborhoods, as some had feared, when Tookie Williams died by lethal injection just minutes after midnight.

Williams was African American and many community organizations and civil liberties groups had backed his plea for clemency. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger rejected the plea, saying the convicted killer showed no signs of remorse.

Williams was co-founder of an inner city street-gang called the Crips, which authorities say has been responsible for hundreds of killings in Los Angeles and elsewhere. Williams was convicted of the brutal murders of four people in two separate 1979 robberies.

Williams, who was 51 when he died, always maintained his innocence. And his supporters said that regardless of his past, he had found redemption. During his 24 years on death row, he co-authored children's books warning youngsters to stay out of gangs.

Some were skeptical of his professed change of heart. The stepmother of one victim, Lora Owens, says the execution brought justice to the killer of her late stepson, Albert. She invoked his memory, and the memory of her late husband.

"We can say that the court system has worked and justice has been served," she said. "Albert and his father can now rest."

Those opposed to the death penalty ask why some killers are given life in prison and others are put to death for their crimes. Activist Eric DeBode said opponents will ask California legislators to stop all executions until that question is answered.

"Our next move is to ask our assembly members to put a halt to any more executions until a study can be done of our execution system to show any flaws, which we believe there are, around geographical matters, class and race, and representation," he said.

The Tookie Williams case drew international attention. The United States is one of the few major democracies that still imposes the death penalty. Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea also impose it for serious crimes. U.S. neighbors Canada, and recently Mexico, have abolished it.

There were vocal criticisms from the nations of the European Union, where the death penalty has also been banned, and where the Williams case drew widespread attention.

Outside San Quentin prison, after Tookie Williams died, reactions were mixed. One woman said he did not deserve clemency, because he did not admit to his crimes. Williams' longtime friend and co-author, Barbara Becnel, told the crowd outside the prison she would one day prove that California had executed an innocent man.