As much as I need to be studying for finals, I just can’t let this one go…
Anyone who reads my blog knows that I am a supporter of the death penalty, but the case of Tookie Williams has caused me to look at who really deserves the death penalty and if redemption while incarcerated is enough to merit clemency.

As I have watched the story of Tookie Williams I have seen a man who seemed like he had been truly redeemed. The founder of the notorious street gang, the Crips, Tookie was convicted of four murders. While in prison – and I haven’t read if this was a religious conversion or something else – Tookie began writing children’s books and encouraging young people to stay away from gangs. Nominated more than once for the Nobel Peace Prize, Tookie truly seemed like a changed man. When Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger denied his last plea for a stay of execution, I was more than curious as to his reasoning. Gov. Schwarzenegger claimed that Tookie may have done wonderful things in prison, but the fact that he maintained his innocence – even with eyewitness testimony to the contrary – revealed that Tookie wasn’t truly sorry for his crimes.

I have a major issue with this reasoning. First of all, as anyone who has studied criminal justice knows, eyewitness testimony is notoriously the least reliable. One of my professors even stated that if he staged a crime scene – say, for instance, a man runs into the classroom with a gun and shoots the professor – every student in the room would give a different description of the suspect and, most likely, a different story concerning what happened during the crime. I have not read the transcripts from Tookie’s trial, but if Gov. Schwarzenegger is relying on the eyewitness testimony to ensure Tookie’s guilt, I am more than a little concerned. I will admit that if Tookie was really guilty of the crimes, and he showed no remorse by refusing to admit his guilt, then he was not the changed man he claimed to be. But IF – and I suppose we’ll never know – IF he was innocent, then we cannot presume that his refusal to take responsibility for the crimes to be evidence of some aspect of his life that wasn’t changed.

The death penalty is the ultimate punishment and, although I support the measure, I believe it should only be reserved for the most heinous offenses (I do suppose, that four murders would qualify), and that mercy should be shown whenever possible. Had Tookie really turned his life around? It certainly looks that way. And if he maintained his innocence to the very end it causes me to wonder if he was truly guilty of the crimes for which he was executed. Anyone who, like myself, has had a drastic religious conversion understands that the person he or she was before is not the person he or she is now and there is no fear of admitting wrongdoing from that former life. If Tookie had committed those crimes and he had been truly converted, why would he not admit it? He famously said that “There is no part of me that existed then that exists now” – boy, do I know that feeling! Why would Tookie not admit his crime if they were truly his?

While I agree that the death penalty should be an option in our criminal justice system, I also believe that mercy should be used whenever possible. If Tookie was the changed man that he claimed to be, then maybe we should have spared his life.

“You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? ” Matthew 7:16

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