December 12, 2005

CORRECTED: Lawyers try late appeal in death row case

Please read headline as "Lawyers try late appeal in Calif.
death row case" and in first paragraph read ... As former Crips
gang leader ... instead of ... As Crips gang leader ... .

A corrected story follows.

By Kemp Powers

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As former Crips gang leader Stanley
Tookie Williams waited on Sunday to hear whether California
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would grant him clemency, his
lawyers sought to prevent a scheduled Tuesday execution with a
new petition to the California Supreme Court.

"Mr. Williams has maintained his innocence since the day he
was arrested," Attorney Verna Wefald wrote in the petition
filed to the state's top court on Saturday.

"Given that the state's case rests on the testimony of
criminal informants who had an incentive to lie, not only to
obtain benefits, but to hide the truth of their involvement in
these crimes, it is imperative that discovery be granted at
this critical stage of Mr. Williams' case."

The attorney argued Williams was unable to challenge the
credibility of key witnesses against him due to a "substandard"
police investigation and evidence suppressed by the prosecutor.
Such evidence would have implicated others in the four shooting
deaths for which Williams, 51, was convicted and condemned to
death in 1981, she said.

The petition called the key testimony of a sheriff's deputy
that Williams' shotgun fired the shell found at the crime scene
"junk science" and needed to be reexamined, and that the
prosecution failed to disclose that witness Alfred Coward was
not a U.S. citizen and had several prior arrests for violent
crimes. Coward is currently serving time in a Canadian prison
for killing a man during a robbery.

The Williams case has generated widespread interest and
passionate debate over the death penalty in the United States
because the prisoner has written a series of books warning
young people against gangs and says he has earned redemption.


As a quarter of a century of legal appeals have failed,
Williams' lawyers have said in recent days that their greatest
hope of saving his life lies with Schwarzenegger, who has the
discretion of commuting the sentence to life in prison without

The celebrity governor's decision is expected either later
on Sunday or on Monday. Williams' execution by lethal injection
is scheduled for shortly after midnight on Tuesday at San
Quentin State Prison north of San Francisco.

It is unclear whether the latest legal filings would win a
reprieve for the inmate, who has apologized for his gang past
but not for the murders which he said he did not commit.

In an interview with Reuters this week, Ronald George, the
chief justice of the California Supreme Court, said there was
"something wrong" with a system in which judges must routinely
ponder last-minute death row legal filings after two decades of

"There may be exceptional situations where something comes
to light, but I think too often these last-minute applications
rest on things, you know, you could have and should have
learned of at any earlier stage," he said on Tuesday, days
before the latest filing in the Williams case. "If they really
appear on their face to be substantial, a court is reluctant to
have an execution go forward."

"The court will deny some claims as untimely," George said.
But when it goes to actual innocence a court is usually
reluctant to say: 'Well, you waited too long."'

California's Supreme Court has already recently denied a
request to stop the Williams execution.

(Additional reporting by Adam Tanner in San Francisco)

(CRIME-EXECUTION-TOOKIE, Editing by Eric Walsh; Reuters
Messaging: [email protected]; e-mail
[email protected], 415-677-2541, fax 415-986-5147))