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Stanley “Tookie” Williams, the co-founder of Los Angeles’ notorious Crips gang who was nominated for the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize, on Tuesday lost one of his last chances to escape the executioner. A unanimous panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied Williams’ petition to overturn his death sentence. But even as it did so, it took the highly unusual step of asking California Gov. Gray Davis to consider granting Williams clemency. “With these holdings, we necessarily conclude that Williams is not entitled to relief from his conviction or sentence in the federal courts,” wrote Senior Judge Procter Hug Jr. “We note, however, that the federal courts are not the only forum for relief, and that Williams may file a petition for clemency with the governor of California.” Judge Thomas Nelson and Ronald Gould joined in the decision, which will likely clear the way for an execution sometime next year. While in California’s San Quentin State Prison, Williams has created a line of children’s books called “Tookie Speaks Out Against Gang Violence,” donating the proceeds to charity. Through his Web site, he has connected children with former gang members, who warn kids of the dangers of street life. Williams also created the Internet Project for Street Peace. In 2000, those efforts caught the attention of Swiss politician Mario Fehr. Fehr nominated Williams for the Nobel Peace Prize, a move that brought support from many organizations throughout the Western world opposed to the U.S. death penalty. The 9th Circuit called Williams’ efforts “laudable.” “Although Williams’ good works and accomplishments since incarceration may make him a worthy candidate for the exercise of gubernatorial discretion, they are not matters that we in the federal judiciary are at liberty to take into consideration in our review of Williams’ habeas corpus petition,” wrote Hug, who sits in Reno, Nev. The decision is also unusual because in recent years, the 9th Circuit has looked with a jaundiced eye on California’s death penalty system. Since the beginning of 2000, the court has affirmed less than one-quarter of the state’s capital convictions. Also significant was that the 9th Circuit turned away an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, even though Williams’ lawyer presented no mitigating evidence at the penalty phase of the trial. Many defendants have found the 9th Circuit receptive to similar claims. Williams’ trial lawyer, Los Angeles solo Joe Ingber, decided against presenting mitigating evidence that Williams suffered head injuries as a child, had strained family relationships and was a habitual user of drugs, including PCP, LSD and, as a teen-ager, marijuana and glue. Ingber later said he decided against painting a sympathetic portrait of Williams because it would invite the prosecution to present evidence of Williams’ leadership of the Crips gang. “Having made this reasonable strategic choice, Ingber cannot be faulted for any failure to investigate further and locate additional witnesses who would have made statements about his past,” Hug wrote. “If the defense presented sympathetic evidence to humanize Williams before the jury, then the prosecution would likely counter with gang evidence to portray him as a heartless killing machine.” Williams was convicted of the 1979 murders of four people during two separate robberies. One was a clerk in a 7-11 store, whom Williams shot as he lay prone on the floor. Three were from an immigrant family who ran a Los Angeles motel. The Crips’ influence and violent ways escalated since Williams was imprisoned, and there were clashes with another notorious gang, the Bloods. Its membership has spread across several states and into South Africa, while copycat gangs have risen in countries throughout the world. Williams has rejected his past, saying he had an epiphany after two years in solitary confinement.

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