Schwarzenegger may waive death penalty for ex-gangster

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The Independent US

Having mown down countless hundreds of bad guys in his big-screen incarnations, Arnold Schwarzenegger now faces an agonising real-world life-and-death decision as he ponders whether to grant clemency to the most prominent prisoner on California's death row - the founder of the Crips street gang, Stanley "Tookie" Williams.

The action man turned California governor has been inundated with petitions pointing out that Williams has publicly repudiated his violent past, penned a series of books for children and teenagers warning them of the dangers of getting involved in gangs, and authored a protocol for achieving peace between warring gangs, which has been successfully applied from Switzerland to South Africa.

Tookie's champions range from Snoop Dogg, the gangsta rapper, to the deputy mayor of Newark, New Jersey.

A large crowd demonstrated on his behalf last weekend outside San Quentin prison, near San Francisco, where Williams is scheduled to die by lethal injection on December 13 if Mr Schwarzenegger does not intervene.

Petitioning the governor on the other side are the families of the four people whose 1979 murders led to Mr Williams' death sentence, as well as the authorities at San Quentin who argue that Mr Williams has remained a linchpin of the Crips gang from behind bars, despite his public conversion to the cause of peace.

Clearly feeling the pressure, Mr Schwarzenegger has taken the unusual step of calling a private meeting with lawyers representing both sides just five days before Williams' scheduled execution date. "The governor reviewed the material in the case this week," his press secretary, Margita Thompson, told reporters. "He decided the best route is a private clemency hearing, so he can hear directly from counsel."