State prosecutors want death cases individually judged

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

CHICAGO -- Two state's attorneys on Monday urged Gov. George Ryan to make individual decisions on about 140 death penalty cases being presented to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board starting today -- rather than issue a blanket clemency.

"Gov. Ryan owes no less to the victims and their families to give this case-by-case consideration," Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine said. "He owes no less to the citizens of this state. There should be no wholesale action taken by the governor."

Ryan has suggested that he might grant a blanket clemency removing the inmates from death row before he leaves office.

The governor ordered the prisoner board to review the capital cases. After the hearings, which are scheduled to last one hour each, the board will make its recommendation to Ryan, who will decide whether to commute the sentence.

Lake County State's Attorney Michael Waller called the review board's task "impossible."

"It's hard to see how anything positive is going to come out of this process," he said. "If the governor grants clemency in many of these cases, law enforcement and family members are going to say that they didn't have a fair hearing. If he doesn't, I'm sure the defendants are going to say they didn't have a full and fair hearing."

If there is a blanket clemency, the prosecutors want Ryan to issue it before the hearings begin to spare victims' families from reliving the loss of loved ones through participating in the hearings.

Ryan ordered a moratorium on executions in January 2000. Since the state resumed capital punishment in 1977, Illinois courts have found that 13 condemned men were wrongly convicted, compared to just 12 that have been executed over the past decade.

A statement released Monday from Ryan's office said the board would review each case and that doing so was necessary, pointing to the 13 death row inmates who were later exonerated.

Ryan "has deep sympathy for the surviving family members and friends of these heinous crimes," the statement read.

"However, the system of capital punishment in Illinois is badly broken and deeply flawed and each of the petitioners was convicted under that broken and flawed system."

Devine defended the system, but added that "no one has ever claimed that the system is perfect, but there is little doubt in the overwhelming number of these cases that the right person was convicted and properly sentenced under the law."

Devine and Waller also want the governor to make public the review board's recommendations and the reasons for his decision on each case.

"These are among the most important decisions in the criminal justice system," Devine said. "The public and especially the victims' families have the right to know the board's conclusions."

The governor has said the findings will be confidential.

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