At the last minute, he invited five of his friends in to watch. One witness said Tookie helped the executioner find the right vein. Then the lethal injection was administered. From the time he entered the execution chamber until he breathed his last breath, 36 minutes and 15 seconds slipped by. Then Stanley Tookie Williams was gone.

It was a controversial execution. Mr. Williams, 51, a co-founder and leader of the Crips gang of Los Angeles was convicted of the brutal murders of four people back in 1979. Along with 651 other criminals, he was on San Quentin Prison’s death row. Although Mr. Williams claimed he was innocent of the four murders, he did not deny the fact that he was a criminal. “I have a despicable background. I was a criminal. I was a co-founder of the Crips. I was a nihilist.” (1)

Without getting caught up in the debate over capital punishment and the death penalty is there something we can learn from this tragic story?

No one denies the fact that Tookie Williams changed his behaviour in prison and radically altered his views on crime and gangs. His life behind bars was characterized by good works. He wrote books for children warning them against gangs and violence. He became a passionate advocate of peace and lectured against violence. His message was powerful. He had been there and done that and now he was warning children against taking a similar path in life.

Would this good turn in his life earn him mercy? Was his changed behaviour sufficient reason for the Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger to show him mercy and grant him clemency? Less than 12 hours before Mr. Williams was scheduled to die, Schwarzeneggar denied him clemency.

We are thankful for the positive messages Mr. Williams sent out from behind San Quentin bars and the impact he had on the lives of young people. Despite his death, his message will not be lost.

We are thankful for every evidence of law and order, justice and fairness that exists in our society – but our systems are not perfect nor are they always right, simply because they are designed and operated by human beings. But consider for a minute the spiritual dimension.

Does God show sinners mercy based on improved behaviour? Does God forgive us our sins because we turned a corner and are now a good citizen? Does God pardon us because we are genuinely trying to do better? Does He blot out our past because we have made amends? Does God owe us forgiveness if we turn-over-a-new-leaf?

Absolutely not! God does not work on the merit system. Forgiveness does not depend on how many good points we can accumulate or how many favors we can score.

Here is what the Bible says about making amends and good works:

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
(Ephesians 2:8-9)

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us…
(Titus 3:5)

Without the shedding of blood is no remission (forgiveness). Hebrews 9:22

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
(Galatians 2:16)

Friend, there is only one way for your sins to be forgiven and for you to be right with God. “…The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”  (1John 1:7)

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/12/national/12cnd-quotes.html