The procedure for executing a prisoner in San Quentin, the only prison in California with a death chamber, is bound by rigid rules dictating when and how each act must be performed — from the moment the inmate wakes up on his last day of life until the moment he dies. Prison officials say this is to ensure a maximum amount of dispassionate efficiency in the inherently grim job of killing a person.
“We try to keep this very professional,” said prison spokesman Sgt. Eric Messick. “I can’t see it being done any other way — you have to treat everyone, especially the inmate, with dignity and respect. This is a very somber event.”
Eleven inmates have been executed in California since the state resumed executions in 1992 after a 25-year hiatus. Two were put to death by poison gas and nine by lethal injection.
If the execution goes through as scheduled, Stanley Tookie Williams will arise this morning to find that the entire Death Row of 648 condemned prisoners, and every other maximum security cell block, has been on tight lockdown since 12:01 a.m. He will be allowed to spend his last day meeting in the prison visiting room with friends and relatives until 6 p.m., when he will be moved to a special death watch cell next to the execution chamber. There, three guards will watch him constantly through the rest of the evening, as he is offered a last meal and can watch television, play the radio or read. The only visitors he will be allowed are a spiritual adviser and the warden.
Williams told The Chronicle he plans to refuse a last meal or anything to drink on his final evening. He has also requested none of his friends or relatives watch the execution. “I don’t want food or water or sympathy from the place that is going to kill me,” he said in an interview with the paper last month. “I don’t want anyone present for the sick and perverted spectacle. The thought of that is appalling and inhumane. It is disgusting for a human to sit and watch another human die.”
At 11:30 p.m., Williams will be given a new pair of denim jeans and a new blue work shirt to wear.
At 11:45 p.m., the first group of witnesses will be led into the room where the death chamber is and positioned by guards on a set of risers or a railing along the thick glass windows of the chamber. These will be state officials, lawyers and people who have asked to watch the execution on behalf of Williams or his victims.
At 11:55 p.m., media witnesses will be escorted in and positioned on risers. Nobody may move after they have been placed. Fifty witnesses total are allowed, 17 of those from the press.
Precisely at midnight, prison officials will make one last call to the state Department of Justice and Department of Corrections headquarters to determine if any last-second stays have been issued. That process usually takes less than a minute, and at 12:01 a.m. Williams will be led by three guards into the lime-green execution chamber through its only door.