Illinois Governor George Ryan Commutes all Death Row Sentences

It's official, from the spokesman of outgoing Illinois Governor Geoge Ryan: In a few minutes, at a press conference at Northwestern University Law School, home to the Center on Wrongful Convictions, Governor Ryan will grant clemency to all 156 death row inmates. This means the death sentences previously imposed on almost all of the inmates will automatically become life sentences, with no possibility of parole.

CNN and probably the other cable news networks will cover the press conference live. Please watch. It's important for the public to understand why this is not only the correct decision, but the only fair and just decision in a state where the death penalty system has broken down and so many innocent people have been wrongfully convicted.

"Ryan, who leaves office Monday, sent overnight letters to the families of murder victims warning them he would announce during a speech Saturday afternoon that he was commuting most of the death sentences to life in prison without the possibility of."

"What does it take? Now that we can say the number of wrongfully convicted men is 17, will that be enough?" Ryan asked.

We just saw a lengthy interview on CNN with pardoned death row inmate Leroy Orange, age 52, who has served 19 years . He was tortured into confessing by the Chicago police, who used tactics which included electric shock treatment. He is a soft-spoken man, and quite articulate. When asked whether there are other innocent men on death row, he replied "yes." When asked if there are guilty men on death row, he said "yes." In reply to the obvious next question, why grant blanket clemency to all, including the guilty, Orange gave the correct answer, essentially, because we don't know who is innocent and who is guilty.

Governor George Ryan is a courageous hero. Saving the life of an innocent man is far more profound an act of justice than any act of bribery or political misconduct in office can be considered an act of injustice. We don't care what happened with taxes and driver's licenses in Illinois. We care about saving the lives of these innocent and wrongfully convicted men.

It is better than 100 guilty men go free than for one innocent man to be put to death. In 1895, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a decision in the case Coffin v. United States, traced this principle past England, Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, to Deuteronomy.

Here, no guilty person is going free. A few sentences will be shortened as is appropriate in those cases. The remaining sentences except for those four pardoned yesterday, are being commuted to life in prison, without. This is fair and this is just.

We purposefully wrote our last post of 2002 on this issue and the 428 legal scholars who wrote Governor Ryan to advise him that granting blanket clemency is legally supportable by precedent and valid.

Rob Warden, director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University, put it this way: "Isn't it better that we let 10 absolutely guilty men who committed horrible crimes spend the rest of their lives in prison, rather than risk one, a single execution of an innocent person?"

We are going to watch the conference live and will report back later. Please make a few minutes to stop by The Innocent Project, The Death Penalty Infomation Center and Stop Capital Punishment.Org and familiarize yourelves with the facts before criticizing Governor Ryan's noble action. To read our past posts on this issue, click on our " Death Penalty", " Innocence Cases" and " Inmates and Prisons" archives.

Here is a timeline of Governor Ryan's efforts to reform the death penalty system in Illinois.

Here are the guidelines for executive clemency in Illinois.

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