Stanley Williams was born December 29, 1953 in Shreveport, Louisiana to a 17-year old mother. His father abandoned the family when Williams was just a year old. In 1959, at the age of six, Williams moved with his mother from Rayville, Louisiana to Los Angeles, California by a Greyhound Lines bus. His mother moved into a two-room apartment on the West Side of South Central Los Angeles. As Williams’ mother worked several jobs to support them, Williams was a latchkey kid and often engaged in mischief on the streets. Williams recalled that, as a child, he would hang out in abandoned houses and vacant lots around his neighborhood in South Central where he would watch adults get drunk, abuse drugs, gamble and engage in pit bull fights. Williams stated that after the adults finished the dog fighting they would make the children fight each other. Williams participated in these street fights regularly as a child where adults would bet on him and give him part of the proceeds for winning his fights. Williams was often the target of older bullies in his neighborhood and, by the age of twelve, he began carrying a switchblade in order to protect himself against older street thugs.
By the time Williams reached his teens he had gained a reputation on the West Side as a vicious street fighter. Williams was expelled from several high schools in South Central L.A. for fighting and had begun doing stints in juvenile hall. In the late 1960s juvenile crime increased in South Central L.A. as new youth gangs formed after older gangs such as the Slausons and the Gladiators disbanded and their members joined the Black Power Movement, most notably as part of the Black Panther Party. Initially Williams despised the predatory street gangs in South Central. Because of his viciousness and willingness to fight older youths, many of whom belonged to small-time street gangs, Williams earned the respect of many neighborhood thugs on the West Side who were leaders of their own small-time cliques.
At age fifteen Williams befriended a teenager named Donald “Doc” Archie. Archie was part of a small-time West Side clique and Williams earned the clique’s respect quickly after beating up one of their members for insulting his mother. As Williams’ violent reputation began to spread across South Central L.A. he became the unofficial leader of this clique. In 1969, at age sixteen, Williams was arrested in Inglewood, California for stealing a car and was sent to the Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey, California. While doing time at the detention center Williams was introduced to weightlifting by the facilities’ gym coach. This experience would spark Williams’ interest in bodybuilding as he became physically bigger and stronger by the time of his release from custody in early 1971. According to Williams, upon his release from custody, the review board asked him what he planned to do after being released. Seventeen-year-old Williams replied that he planned on “being the leader of the biggest gang in the world.”
Seventeen-year-old Stanley Williams was approached by Raymond Washington in the spring of 1971, at Washington Preparatory High School. Washington was from the East Side of South Central, while Williams was from the West Side of that area. A mutual friend of both young men informed Washington of Williams’ toughness and his willingness to fight members of larger, more established street gangs like the L.A. Brims and the Chain Gang (both gangs would later become Bloods sets; The Brims and The Inglewood Family Bloods respectively). According to Williams’ account of his initial meeting with Washington, what struck him about Washington was that, besides being incredibly muscular, Washington and his cohort were dressed similar to Williams and his clique (leather jackets with starched Levi’s jeans and suspenders). They formed an alliance known first as the “Cribs,” later changed to “Crips.” (Ray Washington was killed in August 1979; his funeral took place on his birthday). Because Williams had befriended so many clique leaders and street toughs on the West Side, these leaders in turn rallied their members at Williams’ behest and formed what would become the West Side Crips.
The purpose for creating the gang initially was to eliminate all street gangs and create a “bull force” neighborhood watch. Williams said: “We started out—at least my intent was to, in a sense, address all of the so-called neighboring gangs in the area and to put, in a sense—I thought ‘I can cleanse the neighborhood of all these, you know, marauding gangs.’ But I was totally wrong. And eventually, we morphed into the monster we were addressing.” Washington himself has stated that he founded the Crips not with the intention of eliminating other gangs, but to create a force powerful enough to protect local black people from racism, corruption and brutality at the hands of the police. At the time of the Crips’ initial formation there were only three Crip sets: Washington’s East Side Crips (later called East Coast Crips), Williams’ West Side Crips and the Compton Crips, led by a teenager named Mac Thomas. Washington, Williams and Thomas went on an aggressive and violent recruitment campaign throughout the Black ghettos of Los Angeles. They challenged the leaders of other gangs to one-on-one street fights. Many gang leaders and their members acquiesced and joined the Crips. The few gangs that resisted would later form the alliance known as the Bloods, and would become the Crips’ fiercest rivals.
As leader of the West Side Crips, Williams became the archetype of the new wave of Los Angeles gang members. With his best friend and “enforcer” Curtis “Buddha” Morrow, Williams would engage in random acts of violence against rival gang members and innocent people alike, striking fear in both street criminals and the residents of South Central, Watts, Inglewood and Compton. Perhaps what made his exploits even more legendary was the fact that on numerous occasions the criminal charges ended in dismissal. As other leaders of the Crips were either murdered or incarcerated (in 1973 Raymond Washington was arrested for 2nd degree robbery and sentenced to five years in prison in Tracy, California, Curtis “Buddha” Morrow was shot to death in South Central L.A. on February 23, 1973 following a petty argument, Mac Thomas was murdered under mysterious circumstances in the mid-1970s) Williams was regarded as the leader of the Crips. Around this time Williams lived a dual life as a gang leader as well as a youth counselor in Compton, California, even studying Sociology at Compton College. Despite this he spent his free time participating in numerous violent attacks against the Bloods. In 1976 Williams was wounded in a drive-by shooting in Compton by members of the Bloods. While sitting on the porch of his house one evening as he’d let his dog out for a walk, a carload of Bloods drove by the house and opened fire on Williams. Attempting to avoid getting hit, Williams dove from the porch and was wounded in both of his legs. Despite being told by doctors that he would never walk again, Williams began a nearly year-long process of physical rehabilitation and an intense workout regimen, ultimately regaining his ability to walk.
Williams began dabbling in street drugs around the age of twelve. As a preteen, Williams befriended a neighborhood pimp who, in return for Williams performing errands for him, would reward Williams with money and drugs—particularly quaaludes, barbiturates (then known as “Red Devils”) or marijuana. After being shot, Williams began smoking PCP. Williams’ personal life began to unravel: His maternal grandmother with whom he was very close died in 1976; he lost his counseling job in 1977 after being implicated in a robbery that was committed by two youths from a group home that Williams supervised; he was denied an opportunity to compete in an amateur bodybuilding contest after it was discovered that he was a gang leader (Williams would later appear on the 1970s variety show The Gong Show performing a posedown routine); and his gangbanger lifestyle was beginning to take a mental toll on him, which included a brief stay in the psychiatric ward of a hospital after Williams experienced a bad trip while high on PCP. With each of these setbacks, Williams found himself using PCP more and more. To support his drug habit and obtain PCP, Williams would intimidate and/or rob drug dealers in South Central L.A.. Williams’ addiction to PCP would prove to be his undoing.
In 1979 Williams was convicted of murder in two separate incidents. Williams always maintained his innocence, though subsequent court reviews concluded that there was no compelling reason to grant a retrial. Court transcripts state that Williams met with a man who is only identified in court documents as “Darryl” late on Tuesday evening, February 28, 1979. Williams introduced Darryl to a friend of his, Alfred Coward, a.k.a. “Blackie,” a reference to his dark colored skin and Bernard Trudeau a.k.a. “Whitie,” his Caucasian friend. A short time after the initial meeting, Darryl, driving a brown station wagon and accompanied by Williams, drove to the home of James Garret. Williams frequently stayed with Garret, and kept some of his personal effects at that location, including a 12-gauge shotgun. Williams went into the Garret residence and returned in about ten minutes with the shotgun. The three men then went to the home of Tony Sims in Pomona, California, where they discussed where they could go get some money. Afterward, they went to another residence, where Williams left the others for a period of time. Upon returning, Williams produced a .22 caliber pistol, which he placed in the station wagon. Darryl and Williams got into the station wagon, Coward and Sims got into another vehicle, and shortly thereafter they were on the freeway.
Both vehicles exited the freeway in the vicinity of Whittier Boulevard, where they drove to a nearby Stop-N-Go market. Darryl and Sims, at the request of Williams, entered the store with the apparent intention of robbing it. Darryl was carrying the .22 pistol that Williams had deposited in the station wagon earlier. Darryl also had a WASR-10 rifle in the trunk of the car, along with two semi-automatic handguns. The clerk at the Stop-N-Go market, Johnny Garcia, had just finished mopping the floor when he observed a station wagon and the four men at the door to the market. Two of the men entered the market. One of the men went down an aisle while the other approached Garcia. The man that approached Garcia asked for a cigarette. Garcia gave the man a cigarette and lit it for him. After approximately three to four minutes, both men left the market without carrying out the planned robbery.
Transcripts show that next Coward and Sims followed Williams and Darryl to the 7-Eleven market located at 10437 Whittier Boulevard, in Whittier, California. The store clerk, 26-year-old Albert Lewis Owens, was sweeping the store’s parking lot at 7:42 p.m. When Darryl and Sims entered the 7-Eleven, Owens put the broom and dustpan he was using on the hood of his car and followed them into the store. Williams and Coward then followed Owens into the store. Court records show that as Darryl and Sims walked to the counter area to take money from the register, Williams walked behind Owens, pulled the shotgun from under his jacket and told Owens to “shut up and keep walking.” While pointing the shotgun at Owens’ back, Williams directed him to a back storage room and ordered him to lie down. Coward said that he next heard the sound of a round being chambered into the shotgun. He then heard a shot and glass breaking, followed by two more shots. Records show that he shot at a security monitor and then killed Owens, shooting him twice in the back at point blank range as he lay prone on the storage room floor.
Yen-Yi Yang, 76, and his wife, Tsai-Shai C. Yang, 63, were immigrants from Taiwan. They ran the Brookhaven Motel located at 10411 South Vermont Avenue in South Central Los Angeles with their daughter, Yu-Chin Yang Lin, 43, and son Robert. Yu-Chin had recently joined them from Taiwan. According to court transcripts, at approximately 5:00 a.m. on March 11, 1979, Stanley Williams entered the Brookhaven Motel lobby and then broke down the door that led to the private office. Inside the office, Williams shot and killed Yen-Yi, Tsai-Shai, and Yu-Chin, after which he emptied the cash register and fled the scene. Robert, asleep with his wife in their bedroom at the motel, was awakened by the sound of somebody breaking down the door to the motel’s office. Shortly thereafter he heard a female scream, followed by gunshots. Robert entered the motel office and found that his mother, his sister, and his father had all been shot; the cash register was empty. The forensic pathologist testified that Yen-Yi Yang suffered two close range shotgun wounds, one to his left arm and abdomen, and one to the lower left chest. Tsai-Shai also received two close range wounds, one to the tailbone, and the other to the front of the abdomen, entering at the navel. Yu-Chin Yang Lin was shot once in the upper left face area at a distance of a few feet. Witnesses testified that Williams referred to the victims in conversations with friends as “Buddha-heads.”
Stanley Williams was convicted in 1979 of all four murders with special circumstances on each count of felony murder (robbery) as well as multiple murder in the case of the Brookhaven event. The jury also convicted him of robbery in both cases, and found that he personally used a firearm in the commission of the crimes. The jury returned a verdict of Guilty, and the judge sentenced him to death. From the beginning of his sentence, Williams maintained his innocence regarding the four murders, alleging prosecutorial misconduct, exclusion of exculpatory evidence, ineffective assistance of counsel, biased jury selection, and the misuse of jailhouse and government informants. Williams claimed that the police found “not a shred of tangible evidence, no fingerprints, no crime scenes of bloody boot prints. They didn’t match my boots, nor eyewitnesses. Even the shotgun shells found conveniently at each crime scene didn’t match the shotgun shells that I owned.” However, the prosecution’s firearms expert, a sheriff’s deputy, testified during trial that the shotgun shell recovered from the Yang murder crime scene matched test shells from the shotgun owned by Stanley Williams. No second examiner verified his findings. The defense claims this expert’s methodology was “junk science at best.”
Williams’ gun was found in the home of a couple with whom he occasionally stayed. According to the District Attorney, the husband was undergoing sentencing for receiving stolen property and tried for extortion. Williams’ lawyers have claimed that the District Attorney quashed a murder investigation in exchange for their testimony. The two shells recovered from the Owens crime scene were consistent with shells fired from this gun, with no exclusionary markings. The shell recovered from the Yang crime scene was conclusively matched to Williams’ weapon “to the exclusion of all other firearms.” Critics claim that although he renounced gangs and apologized for his role in co-founding the Crips, Williams continued to associate with Crips members in prison. However, when contacted about Williams’ alleged ongoing gang activity, Los Angeles Police Department spokeswoman April Harding said there was no evidence of his gang leadership. Opponents also pointed out that he received a significant amount of money from outside sources. They stated that people who appreciate Williams’ work sent him money. “It’s as simple as that,” said Williams’ spokeswoman Barbara Becnel.
The prosecution removed three blacks from serving as jurors in Williams’ trial. Williams’ lawyers claimed that he was convicted by a jury that had no blacks, one Latino, one Filipino-American, and 10 caucasians. The District Attorney provided proof, however, in the form of a death certificate and the affidavit of another juror, that juror #12, William James McLurkin, was black. The defense responded that, contrary to the affidavit, McLurkin did not appear black. They maintain that the trial record indicates that none of the lawyers—and particularly the prosecutor—thought McLurkin was black. McLurkin’s driver license photo and the fact that both he and his mother were born in the Philippines was presented as additional evidence in a November 2005 petition for clemency. The defense, however, has neither stated whether or not his mother was actually Filipina, nor refuted the evidence that McLurkin was black. According to the clemency petition, in his closing arguments, prosecuting District Attorney Robert Martin described Williams as a “Bengal tiger in captivity in a zoo” and said that the jury needed to imagine him in his natural “habitat” which was like “going into the back country, into the hinterlands.” In a radio interview, Martin insisted that the analogy was not meant to be racial, and instead was a metaphor to the fact that Williams appeared in court dressed in business attire much like an animal in a zoo appears more docile than it would be in the wild.
On December 13, 2005, after exhausting all forms of appeal, Williams was executed by lethal injection at San Quentin State Prison, California. Newsweek reported thousands of protesters outside, most of whom were seeking Williams’ clemency. He was the 12th person to be executed by the state following the 1976 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Gregg v. Georgia. Witnesses described the mood in the execution chamber as somber, and Williams showed no resistance as he was led into the execution chamber. After Williams was strapped to the gurney, he struggled against the straps holding him down to look up at the press gallery behind him, and to exchange glances with his supporters. Williams’s advocate and editor Barbara Becnel was also a witness to Williams’s execution. In the epilogue of Williams’s reprinted memoir, Blue Rage, Black Redemption, Becnel reported that prior to Williams’s arrival in the death chamber, he had promised her that “he would find a way to lift his head and smile at me at some point during his execution, no matter what was being done to him. And that is exactly what he did.”
Williams then rested his head on the gurney while medical technicians began inserting needles in his veins, although CNN reported the staff had difficulty inserting the needles and the usually-short process took almost 20 minutes. Contra Costa Times reporter John Simerman added, “They had some trouble with the second I.V., which was in the left arm… Williams, at one point, grimaced or looked almost out of frustration…at the difficulty there…He had his glasses on the whole time. He kept them on, and he kept looking…” With a look of frustration on his face, Williams angrily asked the technicians, “You guys doing that right?” A female guard whispered to him, and a second guard patted Williams’ shoulder as if to comfort him. Williams shed one silent tear but otherwise showed no emotion as he was killed. Members of Albert Owens’ family who witnessed the execution were described as stony-faced; however, Lora Owens appeared very upset, according to MSNBC anchor Rita Cosby.
- December, 29, 1953
- Shreveport, Louisiana
- December, 13, 2005
- San Quentin Prison, San Quentin, California
Cause of Death
- execution by lethal injection
- Cremated. Ashes scattered in South Africa