Tookie Williams and Clemency:

Proponents of the execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams are making the argument that, no matter what Williams has done in prison, his conviction of an outrageous crime (a quadruple homicide) means that he ought to be executed. I disagree. Michelle Malkin and Tookie Watch both present extensive evidence about why Williams is a poor candidate for executive clemency. There is, at the least, some reason to wonder about the sincerity of Williams' alleged redemption. There is also the fact that he had never admitted his guilt for the homicides nor apologized to the victims' families.

That said, I think it is mistaken to say that a person who has committed a heinous crime which would merit execution or life in prison should always be subjected to such punishment. Consider, for example, the story of Alessandro Serenelli, who in 1902 murdered an 11-year-old Italian girl named Maria Goretti because she was resisting his attempt to rape her. As I've written elsewhere,

Unrepentant, Alessandro was convicted, and sentenced to 30 years in prison. [Since he was a minor, that was the maximum possible sentence.] In his eighth year of imprisonment, he had a vision of Maria. He saw a garden where a young girl, dressed in white, was gathering lilies. She smiled, and came near him, and encouraged him to accept an armful of the lilies. As he accepted them, each lily transformed into a still white flame. Maria then disappeared.

Alessandro's conversion was complete. When was released from prison after serving 27 years, his first act was to travel to Maria's mother to beg her forgiveness. He then found job as a gardener in a Capuchin monastery, a job he held for the rest of his life.

Along with 30 other witnesses, Alessandro testified as to Maria's sanctity during her Cause of Beatification. In 1950, she was canonized in a ceremony attended by a quarter million people, including her mother, the first mother ever to see her child canonized.

Marie Goretti is among the most famous saints in Italy; the story of Maria and Alessandro was the subject of one of the most-watched television programs in Italy in 2003.

It's possible to make arguments pro and con about whether Tookie Williams has enough in common with Alessandro Serenelli to be considered for clemency. I don't think so, but I can understand why other people might. My broader point is that even if (or, especially if), a person supports the death penalty or life without parole, it is possible that — at least in unusual cases — there can be post-conviction facts which might lead an executive with clemency power to decide to reduce the sentence for a prisoner guilty of an atrocious homicide.

A minority of Americans do not believe in the possibility of supernatural facts, and a great many Americans have an understandable skepticism about the convicted murderers whom Hollywood sometimes elects as special objects of sympathy. I hope, however, that public opposition to clemency for Stanley Williams does not degenerate into a broader attack on the practice of executive clemency, a practice which is a very ancient and honorable element of the checks and balances in a criminal justice system, and which has been greatly eroded in recent decades because governors and presidents fear being unfairly tarred as soft on crime.