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Will governor in Illinois commute death sentences?

By Noreen McNulty | September 27, 2002 | Page 2

ILLINOIS' PRO-CAPITAL PUNISHMENT attorney general filed suit last week to block Gov. George Ryan's case-by-case review of the state's death penalty system. Attorney General Jim Ryan is suing to stop the Prisoner Review Board from holding clemency hearings for death row inmates.

George Ryan, who halted all executions two-and-a-half years ago, has said that he will look into every death row case in the state before leaving office and consider commuting death sentences--possibly a blanket commutation of every prisoner on death row.

But Jim Ryan, the Republican Party's candidate for governor in November, is trying to stop the Prisoner Review Board hearings. He claims that victims' rights aren't being protected.

Yet he certainly doesn't share the same "concern" for victims' rights when it comes to victims of a flawed criminal justice system. In fact, Jim Ryan scrambled into statewide prominence while DuPage County State's Attorney--in part because of his role in prosecuting Rolando Cruz and Alex Hernandez for a notorious crime that they didn't commit.

It took years for Cruz and Hernandez to win their freedom--even after another man confessed to the crime for which they were convicted. Jim Ryan fought their appeals every step of the way.

No wonder he's attacking George Ryan's consideration of a blanket commutation--which would deal a huge blow to the death penalty system that Jim Ryan built his career on.

Sadly, even a few opponents of the death penalty have cautioned that a blanket commutation of all death sentences by the governor would cause a backlash. But George Ryan's moratorium on executions didn't cause a backlash. On the contrary, it cast a spotlight on the injustices of the death penalty system and led more people to question the state's killing machine.

Illinois' death penalty system is too flawed to fix. We have to continue organizing to pressure George Ryan for a blanket commutation--and to build the fight to abolish the death penalty altogether.

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