In the case of the People v. Williams, the facts are quite clear. A jury convicted Stanley Tookie Williams of the execution-style murder of 23-year-old Albert Owens during a robbery of a 7-Eleven store in Whittier. The jury also convicted him of murdering the owners of a Los Angeles motel, Tsai-Shai Yang, 62, and Yen-I Yang, 65, and their 42-year-old daughter, Yee Chen Lin, in the course of a robbery two weeks later.
These innocent victims suffered an unwarranted execution at the hand of Tookie Williams. Now, at long last, it is Williams’ turn to pay for these crimes, after having lived more than 20 years following the deaths of people who committed no crime, who had no lawyer, who had no chance to file an appeal, who benefited from no legal technicalities, who never had an opportunity to seek clemency from a governor.
The American justice system has been patient and thorough, and its verdict is clear: It is legal, proper and high time that Williams should die.
The verdict under Judaism is just as plain: Capital punishment is a rare, but permissible, important and sometime necessary option for the delivery of justice. In this case in particular, the ethical and Jewish case for the death penalty is overwhelming.
But for those who doubt, it is necessary to look no further than the holiest writings of the Jewish faith.
Capital punishment is the second commandment in Genesis, after “Be fruitful and multiply.” Genesis (9:6) proclaims: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for in his image did God make humankind.”
So fundamental is capital punishment as the specific response to murder that it, alone among the laws of the Bible, is established in all five books of the Torah: Genesis (9:6), Exodus (21:12, 21:14), Leviticus (24:17), Numbers (35:31), Deuteronomy (19:19-20, 24:7).
For literal believers in biblical liturgy, nothing more need be said. But certainly Jewish tradition and practice has evolved over the centuries, leading to ongoing moral reinterpretation. It is true that Jewish authorities established strict standards of evidence, as they became especially concerned about the rights of defendants during Roman rule and after. But there’s a difference between a high (and laudable) standard of evidence and an outright prohibition. Jewish law and its Judeo-Christian successor, modern American law, have consistently upheld the legal and moral basis for the death penalty.
It remains fair and reasonable to hold that the value of innocent human life is best established by exacting a proportionate and ultimate sanction upon a murderer. Government has a duty to act where God cannot, so as to establish justice on earth, prevent further murder, and organize a system for prosecution, judgment, and punishment on behalf of victims and society.
Williams had his day in court — again and again and again.
Court after court has rejected his appeals. The 9th Circuit Court determined that Williams had competent counsel. Democrat and Republican governors have rejected calls for clemency. His supporters claim he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize for his prison writings, but this is ridiculous grandstanding, trying to attach an honor to a person who doesn’t deserve it. Nominating Williams for a Nobel Peace Prize did nothing but cynically cheapen the award itself.
Williams was convicted for specific crimes — and that’s what he will die for — but it’s worth considering for a moment the wider evil he’s brought into the world. Williams co-founded the brutal Crips gang, and in that role, it’s difficult to calculate how many crimes and other murders to which he was an accessory. And once he was imprisoned, he left behind a nefarious legacy, an ongoing wave of mass murder that resulted directly from his original criminal leadership. This information was never mentioned in court and was, in fact, kept from the jury. But it remains part of the real Tookie Williams story.
The Crips super-gang he founded exists throughout the United States and even internationally. Williams’ evil efforts have arguably resulted in more devastation — more murder, torture, rape and crippling of Americans, specifically young black children — than the acts of anyone else now alive.
Williams says, conveniently enough, that he’s changed his mind about gangs, although he’s never taken responsibility for the carnage he caused. At best, he may have tried to return a few evils into the Pandora’s Box that he personally opened and helped unleash upon the world. But that’s a far cry from true repentance and actual justice.
The life that Williams has led in prison and his public writings have generated for him the respect of misguided leftists who are all to eager to be kind to the cruel.
No one denies that murderers can go on to apologize, write books and even arguably make a contribution. Perhaps God will weigh the million intangibles, giving them their proper weight on the scales of evil and good done by any individual in a lifetime. But it is our proper and better role to content ourselves with the mission of justice.
I know honorable people who oppose the death penalty on principle. But the arguments are more persuasive on the other side — especially if we consider the rights of victims to take priority over the rights of those who murder. That’s an easy call for me to make, and it’s a crime that victims have to wait so long for justice.
I defend the death penalty — and the need for a more swift and sure death-penalty process, on other grounds, too. Under the current system the result is abusively long legal appeals and expensive lifetime imprisonment for convicted killers. All the while, victims’ families are often tortured by legal gamesmanship as well as by the suffering of not knowing if or when an execution will finally be allowed to go forward.
There are broader considerations as well. In an age of intense religio-political terrorism, the failure to deter and punish mass murder with capital punishment would deliver a devastating blow to the moral and actual defense of innocent life, not to mention the defense of our nation.
Some death-penalty opponents cite DNA evidence as a reason to end capital punishment. To the contrary, death-penalty proponents abhor just as much the theoretical possibility of an innocent person being executed. DNA evidence puts science on the side of justice — and firmly on the side of capital punishment.
The death penalty is widely approved in our society as our collective means of punishment and moral retribution. It is applied in extremely few cases. As applied to mass murderers like Williams, deep care for innocent life and for deterring future crimes requires the ultimate punishment. American law says so; common decency argues as much, and Jewish law says so, too.
Cry for Williams if you like out of mercy. But we are all more deeply stained by the tears of his victims and their loved ones. This just execution will dry some of their tears — and offer some closure and peace. n
Larry Greenfield is an attorney, victims-rights advocate, and the California director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.