John Leo

   One man said Williams had bragged about killing three people who lived on Vermont Street-the location of the motel. The witness later said his testimony was coerced, but a three-judge panel on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that claim. A fellow inmate at Los Angeles County Jail testified that Williams drew up an elaborate escape plan, which involved blowing up a van carrying prisoners from jail to court and killing guards and inmates. Handwritten notes by Williams, which featured his habit of using stars to dot his I’s, corroborated the story of the plan. The fellow inmate also testified that Williams had admitted the motel murders.

   Williams has been riding the death-row celebrity train for some time. Jamie Foxx made a TV movie about him “Redemption,” referring to his decision to write children’s books warning against the gang life. But the death row killer who writes high-minded books to promote clemency is not a new phenomenon.  In his column, Hagan discusses Williams’s checkered career in prison, including two instances of throwing chemicals in the eyes of guards. In denying clemency, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger pointed out that Williams had never apologized for the murders, or even admitted committing them. A farewell message from Williams contained the lyrics of “Strange Fruit,” an anti-lynching song. So the unapologetic killer apparently had no clue about how he reached death row.  

          The media keep converting killers into celebrities deserving of our sympathy. Gary Gilmore, a Utah murderer, was the subject of an enormous book by Norman Mailer, and the ACLU furiously pursued his cause even after Gilmore said he wanted to die. Mailer turned the killer Jack Henry Abbott into a radical chic celeb and a sought-after Manhattan dinner guest once Mailer and other prominent folk helped get him paroled. He grew suddenly less popular when he killed again, knifing a waiter to death. Mumia Abu-Jamal, the convicted cop-killer, is a big name on the left, enlisted to speak on National Public Radio (at least until the protests got too loud) and invited to give major talks, including commencement addresses at two colleges. Now add Williams to the list-the Rosa Parks and Nobel candidate of unrepentant killers.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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