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Emptying of death row in Illinois stirs outrage
The Knox News Sentinel ^ | 1/12/03 | Don Babwin/AP

Posted on 01/12/2003 7:06:53 AM PST by GailA

Emptying of death row in Illinois stirs outrage Action by governor inflames prosecutors, survivors of victims

By DON BABWIN, Associated Press January 12, 2003

CHICAGO - Calling the death penalty process "as capricious and arbitrary as who gets hit by a bolt of lightning," Republican Gov. George Ryan announced Saturday he was clearing Illinois' death row by commuting the death sentences of 156 condemned inmates, a move on a scale unprecedented in U.S. history.

Ryan's action, just two days before he leaves office, drew immediate angry reaction from prosecutors, the incoming governor and relatives of some of the victims.

Ryan said he sympathizes with the families of the men, women and children who were murdered, but he felt he had to act.

"I am not prepared to take the risk that we may execute an innocent person," he wrote in an overnight letter to the victims' families warning them of what he planned.

"Our capital system is haunted by the demon of error - error in determining guilt and error in determining who among the guilty deserves to die," Ryan said Saturday. "What effect was race having? What effect was poverty having?

"Because of all these reasons, today I am commuting the sentences of all death-row inmates."

All but three of the 156 inmates will now serve life in prison without possibility of parole. The three will get shorter sentences and could eventually be released from prison, though none will get out immediately.

Ryan had halted all executions in the state nearly three years earlier after courts found that 13 Illinois death-row inmates had been wrongly convicted since capital punishment resumed in 1977 - a period when 12 other inmates were executed.

He said studies conducted since that moratorium was issued had only raised more questions about the how the death penalty is imposed. He cited problems with trials, sentencing, the appeals process and the state's "spectacular failure" to reform the system.

"Because the Illinois death penalty system is arbitrary and capricious - and therefore immoral - I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death," he said.

Other governors have issued similar moratoriums and commutations but nothing on the scale of what Ryan announced.

"The only other thing that would match what he's done is in 1972 (when) the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the death penalty and 600 death sentences were reduced to life with that decision," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

The most recent blanket clemency came in 1986 when the governor of New Mexico commuted the death sentences of the state's five death-row inmates.

Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, who last year issued the country's only other moratorium on state executions, has no plans to pardon or commute the sentences of any death-row inmate before leaving office Wednesday, spokesman Chuck Porcari said.

Ryan chose Northwestern University - where journalism students investigating Illinois death-row cases helped exonerate some inmates - to publicly announce that he was commuting the 156 death sentences.

Corrections Department spokesman Sergio Molina said Ryan had signed commutation orders for 167 people - 156 on death row and the others in jails awaiting hearings or sentencings for other crimes.

Within a week the department will start moving prisoners out of the state's two condemned units" and into the general population of maximum-security prisons, Molina said.

Vern Fueling, whose son William was shot and killed in 1985 by a man now on death row, was outraged that the killer will be allowed to live.

"My son is in the ground for 17 years, and justice is not done," Fueling said. "This is like a mockery."

Incoming Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, also criticized Ryan's action, calling blanket clemency "a big mistake." Each case should be reviewed individually, Blagojevich said. "You're talking about people who've committed murder."

Ryan on Friday went a step farther in four other death-row cases, issuing pardons for four men he said had been tortured by police into making false confessions.

A few hours later, Aaron Patterson, 38, walked out of prison a free man and ate his first steak dinner in 17 years, while Madison Hobley and Leroy Orange spent time with their families.

Stanley Howard, 40, the fourth man pardoned Friday, remained in prison. He had also been convicted of a separate crime for which he is still serving time. All four had been convicted in murders.

"It's a dream come true, finally. Thank God that this day has finally come," said Hobley, 42, as he left the Pontiac Correctional Center Friday.

Looking a bit dazed, Orange, 52, walked out of Cook County Jail with his two daughters by his side.

"Thank you with all my heart and please do something for the remaining group on death row," he said, addressing Ryan.

Ryan announced the pardons Friday at DePaul University in the first of two speeches capping his three-year campaign to reform the state's capital-punishment system.

Patterson's mother, Jo Ann, said she was overwhelmed when she heard the news.

"I don't believe in miracles, but this is a miracle," she said.

Reaction to the pardons from death-penalty supporters was swift.

Cook County State's Attorney Dick Devine said the future of the four men should have been decided by the courts. His office is trying determine if the pardons could be challenged, but Devine said the clemency powers for an Illinois governor are among the broadest in the country.

"Instead, they were ripped away from (the courts) by a man who is a pharmacist by training and a politician by trade," he said. "Yes, the system is broken, and the governor broke it today."

Ollie Dodds, whose 34-year-old daughter, Johnnie Dodds, died in an apartment fire that Hobley was convicted of setting, said she was saddened by Ryan's decision.

"I don't know how he could do it. It's a hurting thing to hear him say something like that," she said, adding that she still believes Hobley is responsible.

"He doesn't deserve to be out there."

TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society; Front Page News; Government; Politics/Elections; US: Illinois
KEYWORDS: corruption; crime; deathrow; killers; ryan
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1 posted on 01/12/2003 7:06:54 AM PST by GailA
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To: GailA
The only positive is that almost all of them will not have the possibility of parole. When I first saw the headline, I thought he was letting all of them out immediately.
2 posted on 01/12/2003 7:12:30 AM PST by 07055
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To: GailA
Ryan was an A-hole from day one.

I think maybe he is trying to put forth the idea that criminals are being unfairly prosecuted/sentenced because HIS day in court is coming (swiftly, I hope).

3 posted on 01/12/2003 7:20:27 AM PST by greydog
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To: GailA
RE: death 'penalty' and capital 'punishment'

Both words express an intent to reform; 'punishment' just being the juvenile version of the more adult 'penalty'. But if someone is DEAD, they can't be reformed!

Let's just call it like it is - EXECUTION. And if we're gonna execute people, let's do it right - BY PUBLIC HANGING! Bring back the gallows and none of this nonsense of letting criminals wait around on 'death row' to maybe eventually be euthenized like a family pet. That way, the gravity of the situation will be made clear.

IMHO, too many judges are too quick to give the death sentance 'cause they know the convict will just wait around in limbo on death row. This way, if they know their sentance would result in an immediate HANGING, they'll be more careful in their judgements.

4 posted on 01/12/2003 7:22:59 AM PST by Xthe17th (FREE THE STATES. Repudiate the 17th amendment!)
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To: greydog
One more example of sheeple electing someone without character and intelligence to office.
5 posted on 01/12/2003 7:28:15 AM PST by Let's Roll (Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.)
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To: Xthe17th
This action has to be disappointing to the trial lawyers. Think of all the appeals and job opportunities that have went down the drain.
6 posted on 01/12/2003 7:30:12 AM PST by meenie
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To: GailA
. . .but Devine said the clemency powers for an Illinois governor are among the broadest in the country.

Does this mean that the new governor can reverse that descison?

7 posted on 01/12/2003 7:30:13 AM PST by William Terrell
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To: GailA
George Ryan had already singlehandedly destroyed the GOP in Illinois for years to come. The scandals surrounding him and his cronies cost the Republicans the Governor's mansion, and every other statewide office except Treasurer. Now he does this, in a vain and desperate attempt at some sort of legacy. What an A-hole.
8 posted on 01/12/2003 7:31:36 AM PST by Notforprophet (All rights reversed)
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To: 07055
The news was extremely misleading on this point. I listened carefully regarding what the death sentence was commuted to, and none of the media said. A rather bizarre ommission. Of course, the only murderer that can't commit another is a dead one.
9 posted on 01/12/2003 7:32:17 AM PST by TheDon
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To: GailA
I wonder why the innocent people being convicted didn't raise any outrage? Too many prosecutors only concern is clearing the case to further their political ambitions. If we are to retain the death penalty we need some criminal penalities to insure prosecutors want justice, not votes.
10 posted on 01/12/2003 7:32:58 AM PST by steve50
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To: greydog
Sooner than he thinks if one of the 4 cons he set free commits another murder. I would hope that some sharp lawyer could find a way to tie Ryan in to it. Say, . . . Accessory before the fact in enabling the commission of murder.
11 posted on 01/12/2003 7:34:56 AM PST by SandRat
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To: GailA
"I am not prepared to take the risk that we may execute an innocent person,"

Of course, he is prepared to violate statutes himself in the name of his crytal ball predictive social engineering. Who is we? We would be guilty? That is rich! Societal and cultural decay in America is going full bore, especialy amongst the powerful who seem more afraid than people.

Of course Ryan can keep speaking, just as the murderers will while victims cannot, thus arming defacto murderers now in class cahoots with Ryan. If there was something worse than the murders, well it is now Ryan's blanket stereotyped pardon.

Meanwhile Ryan fulfills those murders because he allows the continuation of the status that those murders sought in the first place: violating statutes, killing people, while the murderers can get away with it and keep having an illegal contract with society, confining people in jails, destroying millions invested in their defense and in the prosecutions and what not.

Ryan is the biggest disgrace since Clinton, and this man's new religion of evil statute destruction and social engineering heralding is going to be the type of heart crimes that he will have to face when he meets our Maker.

For in the end it is not so much the action itself that is despicable, but the basis of his "legal" action on social engineering precepts that he demands be embraced in the color of law. I am sorry, Ryan did something illegal. A pardon is not done on those unreasonable terms that have also political and Jihadesque aim.

12 posted on 01/12/2003 7:36:48 AM PST by lavaroise
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To: steve50
These four would be #14 to #18. There's been plenty of outrage, but this isn't a solutions.
13 posted on 01/12/2003 7:42:43 AM PST by SJackson
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To: RedWing9; technochick99; CHICAGOFARMER; bulldogs; Yehuda; Shooter 2.5; sistergoldenhair; ...
Illinois firearms & Second Ammendment ping list. If you'd like to be added or removed, please FRMail me..
14 posted on 01/12/2003 7:49:20 AM PST by SJackson
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To: greydog
Ryan is an @$$! He's trying to immitate the x42nd-impeached-rapist-sick-creature!
15 posted on 01/12/2003 7:52:50 AM PST by MeekMom
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To: William Terrell
Does this mean that the new governor can reverse that descison?

Nope. It's like presidential pardon powers.

16 posted on 01/12/2003 7:55:34 AM PST by Catspaw
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To: GailA; SJackson
Just the closing chapter of a shameful saga.
17 posted on 01/12/2003 7:57:39 AM PST by facedown (Armed in the Heartland)
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To: SJackson
If I had to send 150 people to their deaths knowing that 5-10 are likely innocent and sentencing disparities affect another large percentage, I'm not sure I would have done any different.

I guess people have different views on the acceptable error rate.
18 posted on 01/12/2003 7:59:18 AM PST by steve50
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To: steve50
It's not a matter of an acceptable error rate.

This isn't a new issue. Ryan and others have had years to look into the circumstanced of each case individually.

More importantly he's had years to fix the system.

IMO a case by case review makes sense, a blanket amnesty doesn't. This was a political stunt from a disgraced politician.

19 posted on 01/12/2003 8:13:32 AM PST by SJackson
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To: steve50
So then the logical solution is to commute the sentences of all the murderers? Ryan did what Saddam did when he gets pressured- he released convicts from jail as a gesture of how wonderful he is in order to shift attention. Ryan is trying to be Mr. Civil Rights because he's going to soon has his own experience with the criminal courts and wants to make out like OJ.
20 posted on 01/12/2003 8:17:20 AM PST by Dialup Llama
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