His hopes for clemency rejected and his legal appeals exhausted, Stanley Tookie Williams was executed by lethal injection today for the coldblooded murders of four people 26 years ago. As hundreds of protesters joined in vigils Monday night at San Quentin State Prison and elsewhere in California, deputies in Los Angeles County went on tactical alert and the countdown to execution began on Death Row. The debate over whether Williams, 51, should die for his crimes attracted international attention: Could a violent street hoodlum who helped lead the Crips gang when it was founded find redemption on Death Row, where he wrote children’s books denouncing violence and the gangster lifestyle? In a carefully-argued statement, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger – the last person with the power to reduce Williams’ sentence to life without parole – answered no. “Too often I hear the governor and many who are around him talk about his value system, talk about his commitment to church and the principles he keeps,” said Bruce Gordon, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “In this case, those values seem to be cast aside. “He’s a first-term governor. He wants a second term. He’s going to make decisions that he thinks will appeal to the people who put him in office and will attempt to put him back in office. I think it’s a political decision.” Others saw Schwarzenegger’s decision as a victory for the families of Williams’ four victims – Albert Owens, 26; and Yen-I Yang, 76, his wife, Tsai-Shai Yang, 63, and their daughter, Yee-Chen Lin, 43. Williams was convicted in the shotgun slaying of Owens on Feb. 28, 1979, while robbing the 7-Eleven in Whittier where he was a clerk. The Yangs and Lin were killed March 11, 1979, during a robbery at the Brookhaven Motel on South Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles. They were shot in the back office of the motel, also with a shotgun. “He’s a four-time, unrepentant killer,” said Michael Paranzino, president of Throw Away the Key, a nonprofit organization that supports the death penalty. “For that reason alone, he ought to face the justice that the California jury sentenced him to.” Williams was born in New Orleans and grew up in South Los Angeles, raised by a single mother. While in high school, he joined the Crips and helped the notorious street gang spread throughout urban Los Angeles, where authorities say it has been responsible for hundreds of killings. He was convicted of the four murders in 1981 and sentenced to death. After a six-year stint in solitary confinement in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he said he had an epiphany, renouncing his gang past and spreading an anti-gang message. He wrote a series of children’s books about the ills of gangs, eight aimed at elementary-school children and one aimed at middle-school students. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize for both peace and literature, and his supporters argued that his voice had to be preserved. Executing Williams “would be silencing a voice that the kids in the street need to hear,” said the Rev. Fred Shaw, president of the Compton chapter of the NAACP. “It will be silencing a voice that can show that a person can have redemption. It is killing the idea of hope.” Williams relayed one of his final messages through Jesse Jackson on Monday night, saying: “Those who care about my legacy and my view, avoid violence and live on and work together.” Jackson, who met with Williams after Schwarzenegger declined to grant clemency, said Williams also told him: “I feel good. I have no fear. I’ve been here before,” referring to his former gang days. Schwarzenegger held a private, hourlong clemency hearing Thursday, and attorneys and the public waited through the weekend for his decision. After losing a bid late Sunday for a stay of execution from the California Supreme Court, his attorneys filed a petition with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The 9th Circuit rejected that appeal at 11:30 a.m. Monday. Schwarzenegger rejected the clemency bid an hour later. Williams’ attorney, Jonathan Harris, filed a new petition with Schwarzenegger, asking for a stay of execution instead of clemency. Unlike the clemency petition, which was based on redemption, this petition was based on new evidence. Harris said three witnesses had come forward in the past week providing information that corroborates Williams’ claim of innocence. “I asked the governor to give us a stay, to give us time to investigate the statements of these men that came forward,” Harris said. “I’ll e-mail, I’ll fax, I’ll call his office. I’ll drive it to him if I have to.” Williams’ legal team also filed two petitions with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking to stay the execution and to reopen Williams’ case. The nation’s highest court rejected the petitions about 6:30 p.m. Political experts on both sides of the aisle said Schwarzenegger made the right decision, at least from a political standpoint. “Unlike the special election or some of his other decisions, this is one that most people in California will support,” Republican consultant Allan Hoffenblum said. “He ran on a campaign of supporting the death penalty, and there were no facts to change his mind on this. The only ones opposed to this are those who oppose the death penalty in all circumstances.” Democratic consultant Kerman Mattox said he was not surprised by the governor’s decision and offered praise for the process. “If you look at the reasoning in the governor’s statement, it is obvious that he did take this seriously and spent a great deal of time making this decision,” Mattox said. “But, I have to say, I would have been surprised if he had gone the other way and granted clemency. The right wing of his party would have had a conniption fit (because) they are so upset with him at his other decisions recently.” Some worried that gang members would turn to violence if Williams were executed, but LAPD officials said they were not expecting anything unusual. The department did not go on tactical alert, and gang units in South Los Angeles were not planning to deploy extra officers. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was on tactical alert, but did not anticipate any problems in jails, where a significant portion of the population is made up of gang members. “Whenever you have a situation like this, there’s going to be isolated rumors, but nothing has been substantiated,” Assistant Sheriff Doyle Campbell said. “There doesn’t seem to be a huge allegiance to Tookie Williams. … The fact is, he just does not seem to be significant.” Staff Writers Rick Orlov, Susan Abram, Sandy Mazza and Ruby Gonzales contributed to this report. Josh Kleinbaum, (818) 713-3669 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORERose Parade grand marshal Rita Moreno talks New Year’s Day outfit and ‘West Side Story’ remake Discounting his claims of redemption and his supporters’ pleas for mercy, Schwarzenegger in a statement released shortly after noon Monday said Williams’ refusal to acknowledge what he had done and his failure to show contrition for his crimes weighed heavily in the decision to reject clemency. “Is Williams’ redemption complete and sincere? Stanley Williams insists he is innocent, and that he will not and should not apologize or otherwise atone for the murders of the four victims in this case. Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings there can be no redemption.” The governor traced the exhaustive legal processes during the past 26 years even as teams of lawyers attempted last-minute appeals to stay the execution. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and then the U.S. Supreme Court turned down those appeals and so did Schwarzenegger when urged to delay carrying out the death sentence. Williams’ powerful story of redemption while awaiting execution for the brutal murders of four people ignited a furious debate over the death penalty – both in California and around the country – and his role as an advocate against gang violence. Still, Williams’ star-studded group of supporters, including Oscar-winning actor Jamie Foxx, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and rapper Snoop Dogg, kept up their fight, arguing that Williams’ experience gave him the unique ability to reach inner-city children.