Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Europeans Outraged at Williams' Execution

Europeans are reacting with revulsion and anger to the execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams, and in particular to Schwarzenegger, who refused to commute Williams' death sentence. Capital punishment is banned in all of the European Union countries and in every industrialized country in the world except the United States; and in much of the rest of the world the death penalty either has been abolished in law or abandoned in practice.

Several news organizations wrote that it took more than 10 minutes for the executioners to successfully insert the needle in Williams' left arm.

Prison officials struggled to administer the lethal injection that took Stanley "Tookie" Williams' life early on Tuesday, witnesses said.

It took more than 10 minutes and at least two tries to introduce the lethal cocktail into his veins, during which time Williams lifted his head and looked around while onlookers raised fists and blew kisses to show support.

"The first hint that it would be a difficult medical procedure came as they tried to insert the needle into his right arm," said Michael Linder of KNX Radio in Los Angeles, one of a group of journalists allowed to witness the execution.

"I saw a technician raise one of the alcohol towelettes and it had quite a bit of blood on it," he added.

"They had some trouble with the second IV which was in the left arm, it took them, it may have been 10 minutes, to deal with that," added John Simerman of the Contra Costa Times, a San Francisco-area newspaper.

"It seemed to me that it was taking much longer than Williams thought it would. He kept lifting his head, shaking his head, putting it back down, almost as if, it seemed like disgust to me, and frustration," said Kim Curtis of the Associated Press.

At one point, Williams looked around and appeared to ask, "You doing that right?" said Curtis.

The Catholic Church, which opposes capital punishment, officially condemned the execution:

At the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI's top official for justice matters denounced the death penalty for going against redemption and human dignity.

"We know the death penalty doesn't resolve anything," Cardinal Renato Martino told AP Television News. "Even a criminal is worthy of respect because he is a human being. The death penalty is a negation of human dignity."

Italian political and human rights leaders and public opinion were also harshly critical of Schwarzenegger's decision to allow Williams to be put to death.

In Italy, the country's chapter of Amnesty International called the execution "a cold-blooded murder."

"His execution is a slap in the face to the principle of rehabilitation of inmates, an inhumane and inclement act toward a person who, with his exemplary behavior and his activity in favor of street kids, had become an important figure and a symbol of hope for many youths," the group said.

World reaction took note of the fact that Williams was executed for a crime he committed 24 years ago:
"I am proud to be a Frenchman," party spokesman Julien Dray told RTL radio. "I am proud to live in France, in a country where we don't execute somebody 21 years later." [It was actually 24 years, not 21.]
From London, Clive Stafford-Smith, a human rights lawyer specializing in death penalty cases, called the execution "very sad."

"He was twice as old as when they sentenced him to die, and he certainly wasn't the same person that he was when he was sentenced," Stafford-Smith said.

Newsweek reports that thousands of people opposed to the execution rallied outside San Quentin as Williams was being killed; and Newsweek's Karen Breslau writes:

There were also poignant sights: a woman standing alone under a tree with a large photograph of a handsome young man. "My son was a murder victim," read her sign. "He opposed the death penalty. So do I." Small groups of demonstrators clutched candles and held each other tight against the chill wind of the San Francisco Bay. The huge prison complex where Williams was being readied for death glowed under white floodlights. Helicopters swirled overhead.

Austrians expressed some of the strongest outrage against Schwarzenegger, because the California governor is Austrian by birth.

Leaders of Austria's pacifist Green Party went as far as to call for Schwarzenegger to be stripped of his Austrian citizenship -- a demand, however, that was quickly rejected by Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel despite his government's opposition to the death penalty.

"Whoever, out of political calculation, allows the death of a person rehabilitated in such an exemplary manner has rejected the basic values of Austrian society," said Peter Pilz, a Greens leader.

In Graz, Schwarzenegger's hometown, local Greens said they would file a petition to remove the governor's name from the southern city's Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadium.

ABC News' Brian Rooney witnessed the execution:

Tookie Williams was declared dead at 12:35 am. It took 36 minutes and 15 seconds from when he walked into the room to when he was dead. It took quite awhile, more than 20 minutes to insert the needles. All that time Williams was awake, aware and speaking to the attendants. After awhile he seemed agitated that it took so long. When the drugs started to flow he tried to keep his head up, as if to see his five friends who were there. When his chest and stomach stopped heaving, we watched and waited several minutes in complete silence until the curtain was drawn on Tookie's body. [Emphasis mine.]

And from Italy again:

Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni said the city would keep Williams in its memory the next time it celebrates a victory against the death penalty somewhere in the world.

Rome's Colosseum, once the arena for deadly gladiator combat and executions, has become a symbol of Italy's anti-death penalty stance. Since 1999, the monument has been bathed in golden light every time a death sentence is commuted somewhere in the world or a country abolishes capital punishment.

"I hope there will be such an occasion soon," Veltroni said in a statement. "When it happens, we will do it with a special thought for Tookie."

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