Hundreds protest at execution of former gang leader

 Church leaders have joined protests at the latest execution in the United States. The former gang leader, Stanley 'Tookie' Williams, 51, was killed by lethal injection yesterday morning (UK time), 24 years after he was convicted of four murders. The execution took over 25 minutes as prison staff struggled to insert the needle. Several hundred supporters held prayer vigils outside San Quentin prison, north of San Francisco, until his death was declared. Williams always denied the murders although he admitted his gang involvement. Throughout his 24 years in jail, Williams denounced gang violence and won praise for his anti-gang books, earning Nobel Peace Prize nominations for his teachings. A high profile campaign to save him was backed by many Hollywood stars, the Vatican, Bishop Desmond Tutu and the Reverend Jesse Jackson. But California Governor Schwarzenegger refused to grant a reprieve and said he did not feel Williams had shown any remorse for his crimes. After the execution, MSNBC presenter Rita Cosby said: "The State of California has killed an innocent man." Cardinal Renato Martini from the Vatican's Justice and Peace office said: "This is terrible because you know the death penalty is a penalty where there is no alternative, there is no possibility for the human being who happens to be a criminal - to be corrected, to reform, to become a good citizen. "With the death penalty you don't give that alternative and that is not taking into account the many, many mistakes and errors, judicial errors that we discover from time to time were committed and innocent people were executed." Rev Jesse Jackson said: "I'm disappointed that Mr Schwarzenegger has chosen death over life, he's chosen revenge over redemption. In some sense, I think Mr Williams has become a kind of political trophy. And there are those who wanted to get this trophy. "I think that the killing of Tookie might raise a whole debate about the death penalty, life without parole and other options to another level." Sister Helen Prejean, anti-death-penalty campaigner said: "When you look into Tookie's case, you see 'what was the forensic evidence against him?' - the only evidence was a gun and a bullet that another gang member handed over to the police and said 'yeah, Tookie shot this'. "It's all these jailhouse snitches, and people that give information against each other, so there's a way Arnold Schwarzenegger could say 'yeah, I stand for the law, but I stand for the law that's best in America', and it's becoming very clear we have a lot of problems with the death penalty."

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