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 CNS Story:

WILLIAMS-REACT Dec-13-2005 (710 words) With photos. xxxn

Williams execution prompts calls for moratorium, defense of all life

By Catholic News Service

SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) -- Church leaders in California, Washington and Rome were among those urging California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to commute the death sentence of Stanley "Tookie" Williams and asking Californians to call for a moratorium on executions.

But Williams, 51, was killed by lethal injection about 12:35 a.m. Dec. 13 at San Quentin State Prison. Williams had been convicted for the 1979 murders of a 7-Eleven clerk in Whittier and three members of a family who owned a Los Angeles motel.

In a statement, Auxiliary Bishop John C. Wester of San Francisco, who is apostolic administrator of the archdiocese, asked Californians "to ponder carefully whether the use of the death penalty makes our society safer."

He said "a moratorium is needed to evaluate whether the death penalty serves the common good and safeguards the dignity of human life. We are convinced that it does not."

San Quentin is located within the boundaries of the San Francisco Archdiocese.

Bishop Wester offered prayers and sympathy to the families of those Williams was convicted of murdering -- Albert Owens, Yen-I Yang, Tsai-Shai Yang and Ye-Chen Lin.

But, he added, while the state has a right to require punishment and to protect the community, "we believe the state's role in meting out justice would have been served best by keeping Stanley T. Williams in prison for the rest of his life."

Bishop Wester said, "We must ask ourselves and our fellow citizens whether the violence of state-ordered executions ... does not itself contribute to a culture of death in which respect for the dignity and precious worth of every human life is diminished."

Life imprisonment without the possibility of parole "would have been a just and exacting punishment," he added.

A few days before the execution, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, N.Y., chairman of the U.S. bishops Committee on Domestic Policy, wrote to Schwarzenegger urging him to spare Williams' life.

"It is not my intent in any way to diminish the responsibility of those who have committed terrible crimes, however, this execution can only compound the violence that already exists in our society," Bishop DiMarzio wrote in the Dec. 9 letter. A copy of it was released Dec. 12 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington.

He told Schwarzenegger, who is Catholic, that Pope John Paul II "challenged all followers of Christ to be 'unconditionally pro-life.'"

"This is not about ideology, but a fundamental respect for life," Bishop DiMarzio said. "We do not believe that you can teach that killing is wrong by killing. We do not believe that you can defend life by taking life."

The afternoon before the execution, Schwarzenegger denied Williams' appeal for clemency saying in a statement that "without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings, there can be no redemption."

Williams, who co-founded the Crips, a violent criminal gang, maintained his innocence in the killings. During his 25 years in prison, Williams apologized for starting the Crips and actively worked to teach children about the dangers of gangs and violence. He co-wrote children's books about avoiding gangs, regularly spoke by phone to students, teachers and community groups, and was nominated several times for Nobel Prizes in literature and peace.

Outside the San Quentin prison, about 1,000 opponents of the death penalty and a few capital punishment supporters held a vigil at the time of the execution.

In Rome, Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, told Italian television Dec. 13 that all human life, including the lives of those who have killed, must be defended.

Pope John Paul II's encyclical "Evangelium Vitae" ("The Gospel of Life") said penalties for crimes "must be rehabilitative," and the death penalty rules out any possibility of rehabilitation, Cardinal Martino said a few hours after Williams' execution.

In a written statement, the Rome-based Sant'Egidio Community, which is lobbying for a worldwide moratorium on the use of the death penalty, said the governor's decision not to grant clemency covered the California justice system "with avoidable shame."

Williams' conversion to nonviolence, his repentance and his regret for the things he did as a gang leader inspired "millions of poor children" to seek positive ways out of violence and poverty, the community said.

END


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