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Stanley "Tookie" Williams & the Death Penalty

What Is the Purpose of the Death Penalty?


Barbara Chan joins death penalty opponents as they gather outside the gates of San Quentin State Prison after condemned killer Stanley 'Tookie' Williams was denied clemency
David Paul Morris/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Stanley "Tookie" Williams was put to death on December 13, 2005, by lethal injection by the state of California, after he was denied hs final clemency plea by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on December 12, 2005.

The case of Mr. Williams, an author and Nobel Peace and Literature Prizes nominee, brought the death penalty back into prominent public debate.

Mr. Williams was convicted of four murders committed in 1979, and sentenced to death. Williams professed innocence of these crimes. He was also co-founder of the Crips, a deadly and powerful Los Angeles-based street gang responsible for hundreds of murders.

About five years after incarceration, Mr. Williams underwent a profound religious conversion and, as a result, authored many books and programs to promote peace and to fight gangs and gang violence.

Mr. Williams was nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize and four times for the Nobel Literature Prize.

Mr. Williams' was a self-admitted life of crime and violence, followed by genuine redemption and a life of uniquely and unusually good works.

The circumstantial evidence against Williams left little doubt that he committed the four murders for which he was convicted, despite last-minute claims by supporters. There also existed no doubt that Mr. Williams posed no further threat to society, and would contribute considerable good.

The case of Stanley Tookie Williams forced public reflection on the purpose of the death penalty:

  • Is the purpose of the death penalty to remove from society someone who would cause more harm?
  • Is the purpose to remove from society someone who is incapable of rehabilitation?
  • Is the purpose of the death penalty to deter others from committing murder?
  • Is the purpose of the death penalty to punish the criminal?
  • Is the purpose of the death penalty to take retribution on behalf of the victim?
For more about reasons for and against capital punishment, see Death Penalty Pros & Cons.

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