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Illinois Governor empties death row

by Peter Wagner, January 12, 2003

On Jan 11, 2003, outgoing Illinois Governor Ryan reduced the death sentences of all 167 prisoners to life or other sentences. The day prior, he freed four death row prisoners who were innocent.

“The facts that I have seen in reviewing each and every one of these cases raised questions not only about the innocence of people on death row, but about the fairness of the death penalty system as a whole,” –Gov. Ryan

“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.”–Gov. Ryan

“The Legislature couldn’t reform it, lawmakers won’t repeal it, and I won’t stand for it U I must act. Because our three-year study has found only more questions about the fairness of the sentencing, because of the spectacular failure to reform the system, because we have seen justice delayed for countless death row inmates with potentially meritorious claims, because the Illinois death penalty system is arbitrary and capricious U and therefore immoral.” –Gov. Ryan

According to the New York Times:

“Governors have broad, virtually unchecked constitutional powers for pardons and clemency, and Mr. Ryan is at least the fourth to empty death row as he departs office, though the scale of his action overshadows the 22 men Gov. Lee Cruce of Oklahoma spared in 1915, the 15 death sentences Gov. Winthrop L Rockefeller of Arkansas commuted in 1970 and the five clemency petitions Gov. Toney Anaya of New Mexico granted in 1986.”

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