. . . Remember, whether you are a prosecutor or a defender, that when you step into a courtroom, you should be engaged in a passionate search for the truth, rather than a zealous pursuit of a victory for victory's sake.
-- Gov. George Ryan's advice to law students
August 2, 2018: Pope Francis declares "the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person".
Even Saint Pope John-Paul II [1978-2005] appealed to abolish the death penalty calling it "cruel and unnecessary".
Illinois is now a leader in the arena of death-penalty reform, but calls for an end to the moratorium on executions are premature.
After studying every death-penalty case in this state and examining the system from all angles, the Governor's Commission on Capital Punishment made 85 recommendations directed to the Illinois legislature and Supreme Court to ensure fair and impartial administration of the death penalty.
The General Assembly has enacted a limited selection of them, but some of the most important recommendations have yet to be adopted. Until these become law we will continue to risk putting the wrong people on Death Row. When the sanction of death is involved, we must strive for the highest standards of fairness and accuracy. Examples of the commission's recommendations that still should be implemented include:
- Recording by audio or video tape of all questioning sessions of homicide suspects in order to create a complete and accurate record of what is said. This important reform would help convict the guilty, protect the innocent and shield police from false claims of misconduct. It is unfortunate that under the new law, mandatory recordings in Illinois police stations will not be required for two years. Until then, judges and juries will continue to be presented with dueling testimonial versions of what happened at the police station.
- A new way of judging witnesses' memories. Mistaken identification by witnesses has been the most prevalent cause of wrongful convictions in Illinois and elsewhere. One reason is the methods used: lineups and photo spreads, in which the witness views all persons or pictures at the same time. The commission recommended a procedure known as "double-blind sequential." The persons in lineups or pictures are displayed one at a time, and the witness is required to state whether he believes that person is the perpetrator before going to the next. Double-blind means that the person administering the lineup as well as the witness is unaware which person or picture is the one suspected of being the perpetrator, thus preventing overt or inadvertent influencing of the witness. A great deal of research has shown that this technique dramatically reduces error rates because the witness is required to make an absolute judgment as to each person or photo, rather than a relative judgment as to which among those shown most resembles the witness' memory of the perpetrator.
- People who are arrested and taken into police custody must be told that they have a right to a lawyer and, more important, must be allowed access to one. People with financial means, of course, may hire lawyers to consult with them at the police station. But the reality is different for indigent suspects who request appointed counsel, because the public defender may not act without being appointed by a judge. This requires that the suspect appear in court, which often does not occur until a day or two after arrest. The commission recommended that, when a suspect requests an appointed lawyer, the public defender be authorized to consult at the station.
- Narrow the parameters of capital punishment to comply with U.S. Supreme Court rulings. The high court has ruled that state capital-punishment systems must narrow the class of persons eligible for the death penalty and must reasonably justify the imposition of a more severe sentence on the defendant compared with others found guilty of murder. In other words, the death penalty should be reserved for those who commit the most heinous homicides. But under present Illinois law, virtually every murder is encompassed within the 21 factors that make murders eligible.
- Establishment of a statewide commission to review each death-penalty case and override the prosecutor's decision if deemed appropriate. A commission study revealed significant disparities: Murders committed in rural counties and those involving white victims are much more likely to result in death sentences than murders committed in urban counties and those in which the victim was non-white. The makeup of this panel would consist of the attorney general, three state's attorneys and a retired judge. The commission also recommended that if the legislature fails to act on this proposal, the governor should set up a voluntary review process and commute death sentences in cases in which the prosecutor has not obtained panel approval.
- Establishment of an independent state forensic laboratory with civilian personnel and its own budget to replace the lab operated by the Illinois State Police. This would remove control of the lab from one of the two parties to criminal cases and prevent the appearance of bias for the prosecution.
A number of the commission's recommendations are directed to the Supreme Court of Illinois to improve the education and training of judges, certification of those qualified to handle capital cases, and appointment of a standing committee of experienced judges to provide resources to fellow judges who try capital cases. These proposals await the court's action.
The commission also proposed that the state high court's pattern for instructions in criminal cases should include cautions about the fallibility of eyewitness identifications and the difficulties in making cross-racial identifications; the dubious reliability of testimony from "jailhouse snitches"; and the greater reliability of electronically recorded statements attributed to the defendant than those that are not recorded. These proposals also await the court's action.
Under current law, trial judges have no authority to override a jury's death sentence even if they doubt the defendant's guilt or believe that capital punishment is not warranted under the circumstances of the case. Though the commission recommended that judges be empowered to do so, the new statute specifically denies this power to trial judges.
Another problem lies with appeals, which go directly from the trial court to the Illinois Supreme Court.
The new statute authorizes the court to overturn a death sentence and substitute a lesser term "if the court finds that the death sentence is fundamentally unjust as applied to the particular case."
But the General Assembly failed to adopt the commission's recommendation that the Supreme Court compare the circumstances and penalty in the case with similar Illinois murder cases in which death was a potential punishment.
This would enable the court to conduct a "proportionality" review and set aside the death penalty if the court found it excessive or disproportionate. Regardless of our positions on the morality, wisdom or economics of capital punishment, we all should agree that the system ought to contain fundamental safeguards needed to prevent more death sentences' being imposed on innocent people and in circumstances that do not call for the ultimate punishment.
The reforms recounted above are designed to achieve those results. Unless and until they are adopted as recommended by the Governor's Commission, we will not be able to say with confidence that our seriously flawed system has been repaired.
The following are prepared remarks delivered by Gov. George Ryan Friday at the DePaul University College of Law:
Thank you very much Andrea Lyon for that introduction and thank you Father Minogue for hosting us today.
I want to acknowledge Larry Marshall from Northwestern Law School who is here today. He has long been a tireless advocate for justice for the hardest cases. I want to welcome him.
I believe Paul Ciolino may be here. Paul is a private investigator, and a pretty tenacious one at that. He worked on several important cases of death row inmates and he is known for teaching his tricks to law and journalism students. I want to acknowledge him.
I want to thank you all for joining us today.
It means a lot to be here. Although Governors work all the time, this is my last full business day in office. At noon on Monday, a new governor will be inaugurated and my time in office will be completed. I'm glad I can spend some time with law students, people who can make a difference in the future.
I know Andrea is dedicated to teaching the next generation of lawyers about the law and about justice. She knows about both and I want to congratulate her for starting an innocence project here, the Center for Justice in Capital Cases.
As you know, I have been learning about the Illinois capital punishment system. It has been an arduous journey.
Four years ago I was taking the oath of office. I had great ambitions for an agenda to build a new Illinois.
We succeeded in most of those goals: investing 51 percent of new revenues for education, developing a program to invest in the schools, roads and transit systems of this state--that program became Illinois FIRST.
There were many things we wanted to do. But the death penalty was nowhere on the radar screen. I had no intention of grappling with such a difficult topic. As I have said, the death penalty was just one of those things that was there, in the abstract.
Little did I know what lay ahead.
Three years ago, I was faced with startling information.
We had exonerated not one, not two, but 13 men from death row.
They were found innocent. Innocent of the charges for which they were sentenced to die.
Can you imagine?
The state nearly killed innocent people, nearly injected them with a cocktail of deadly poisons so that they could die in front of witnesses on a gurney in the state's death chamber.
You have heard some of the stories. I won't dwell on them today because I have so much to report, but the exonerated included Anthony Porter, wrongfully convicted and 48 hours away from being executed.
His lawyer Larry Marshall won a stay of execution, so that journalism students led by their professor David Protess (right) and Investigator Paul Ciolino could prove his innocence.
Rolando Cruz and Alex Hernandez, wrongly convicted for killing a little girl even as a convicted child killer, Brian Dugan, offered to plead guilty to the horrible crime. Prosecutors, who were zealously committed to sending Cruz and Hernandez to death row, would not accept Dugan's offer of a guilty plea in exchange for life. A courageous DuPage county judge acquitted Cruz and Hernandez in 1995. Since then, DNA evidence conclusively points to Dugan, who remains uncharged.
There were others Dennis Williams and Verneal Jimerson, The case against them had hinged on the testimony of a 17-year-old impoverished mentally challenged woman who, according to her lawyers, was coerced at gunpoint by investigators to testifying against four of her friends.
When she tried to come clean, the state charged her with perjury, sent her off to prison where she spent 8 years in hell. She finally got out when she agreed to go back to her coerced testimony, even though it was false. 20 years later, the state's attorney was still fighting her effort to clear her name of the perjury charge.
Another co-defendant, Kenny Adams, was sentenced to prison for XXX. He was offered a get out of jail free card if he would only testify against one of his co-defendants during one of their retrials. He showed enormous strength of character by refusing that bargain. Adams, Willie Rainge, Williams and Patterson, the Ford Heights Four, were rescued from their nightmare.
Finally Paul Ciolino and Dave Protess and their students got the evidence to free the Ford Heights Four. They found the witnesses who recanted their claims and, with their lawyers, fought for DNA testing. It's a good thing. The Ford Heights Four were cleared by DNA evidence after an 18-year battle.
Gary Gauger was sentenced to die for killing his parents. But there was no evidence, just an alleged vision statement that was never committed to writing by investigators. Federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms investigators saved him by catching members of the Outlaw motorcycle gang on tape confessing to killing Gauger's parents and laughing about how Gary took the rap.
The category of horrors was hard to believe. If I hadn't reviewed the cases myself, I wouldn't believe it.
I've repeated many times the findings of reporters Steve Mills and Ken Armstrong of the Chicago Tribune who conducted an exhaustive investigation in the flaws of the system in November of 1999.
Half of the nearly 300 capital cases in Illinois had been reversed for a new trial or resentencing. Nearly Half!
33 of the death row inmates were represented at trial by an attorney who had later been disbarred or at some point suspended from practicing law.
Of the more than 160 death row inmates, 35 were African American defendants who had been convicted or condemned to die by all-white juries.
More than two-thirds of the inmates on death row are African-American.
46 inmates were convicted on the basis of testimony from jailhouse informants.
I'm not a lawyer, but I don't think you need to be one to be appalled by those statistics.
I have one question. How does that happen?
We had executed 12 people since capital punishment was reinstated here in Illinois in 1977. With the 13th exonerated inmate in January of 2000, we had released more innocent men from death row than those hopefully guilty people we had executed.
Three years ago I described it as a shameful scorecard. Truly shameful.
So I did the only thing I could, I called for what is in effect a moratorium.
A lot of people called that courageous.
It wasn't. It was just the right thing to do. I have a feeling that's what Father Minogue, Andrea Lyon and the other law professors here at DePaul are teaching you to do.
I wish I had better news to report to you today. But I don't.
In fact I must share with you some startling information. There are more innocent people on death.
Let me talk to you about Madison Hobley.
In January, 1987, 16 years ago, Madison Hobley lived with his wife and infant son in an apartment building on Chicago's South Side where he worked for a medical supply company. Madison had no previous convictions. He had married his childhood sweetheart.
Madison had a steady job, installing medical equipment in people's homes. He was studying to become a medical technician. His only indiscretion was a brief extramarital affair which he had ended and for which his wife and her parents had forgiven him. By January they were back together, trying to build their lives together as family.
On the sixth, Madison awoke to the sound of a fire alarm. Dressed only in shorts and a T-shirt, he went into the hall to investigate. The couple's apartment was at the top of the stairway on the third floor, and he thought he saw smoke coming from under the door of an apartment across from his. Suddenly he heard a whoosh and a cracking noise. A stairway door failed.
There was a wall of fire and smoke between him and his wife and young son. Shouting to them to head for a window, he crawled down the hall to the back stairs. He hoped he could rescue them. He prayed his wife could drop the baby to him out the window.
But it was not to be. He never saw his family again. Seven people died, including Madison's wife and baby. Yet in the confusion of the inferno around him, Madison helped to catch a neighbor's baby and save its life.
Because he survived and his family did not, the police immediately focused on Madison Hobley as a suspect, ignoring information about a disgruntled former tenant evicted months before for selling drugs. The now infamous Area 2 detectives, under the command of Lt. John Burge, grilled Hobley, beat him, "bagged" him and tried to get him to confess.
Bagging involves taping a plastic typewriter cover over a suspect's face and head until the suspect loses consciousness from lack of oxygen. Burge and his men practiced it regularly, we know this now from the Chicago Police Office of Professional Standards.
The police said Madison confessed, but the only writing that survived was his denial. A detective said the purported confession got coffee spilled on it, was "wet and torn" and so he threw it away.
Two men came forward to claim they saw Madison purchase gasoline the night of the fire. One could not be certain of his identification. The other, it turned out, was being "helped" by Chicago police in his own criminal problems, including an arson that had occurred six weeks later and within a few blocks of the apartment building where Hobley lived.
Madison's trial lawyers had no idea that the testimony of this witness was tainted. Nor did they know that a gasoline can introduced into evidence during Madison's trial was not used to start the fatal fire but rather had been seized earlier at another unrelated fire. That's because his lawyer and investigator, Andrea Lyon and her team and Paul Ciolino, uncovered this new evidence.
The gas can used to convict Madison was in pristine condition, showing no signs that it had "survived" the blaze that killed his family. The defense also did not receive a fingerprint report from the can that could prove Madison's print were not on the can.
A Cook County Judge has refused to acknowledge any of this new evidence in hearings ordered by the state supreme court.
So Madison Hobley has sat on death row and waited. Waited for justice.
Madison's troubles even spread to the jury room. The foreman of the jury, a suburban police officer, intimidated some jurors by laying his gun on the jury table and announcing "we'll reach a verdict." The jury finally came back with a guilty verdict after four days of strained deliberations.
Madison Hobley was convicted on the basis of flawed evidence. He was convicted because the jury did not have the benefit of all existing evidence which would have served to exonerate him.
The case against Madison evaporated only after years of investigation by Professor Andrea Lyon, from here at DePaul, and Attorney Kurt Feuer, a DePaul law alum, and many of Professor Lyon's students.
Madison Hobley professed his innocence from the first day that Chicago police arrested him.
Evidence uncovered after trial similarly presents a compelling case that Stanley Howard did not commit the crime for which he faces execution.
He was charged with coming up to a man in a car, asking for a match, and then shooting the man in a fit of temper when the man refused the request. However, witnesses subsequently were located who heard the crime unfold and whose testimony establishes that the shooter knew the victim and his companion and that the shooter had been stalking them so that he could, in his words, "catch" them.
There was no physical evidence of any kind against Howard. The State's case consisted entirely of two items of evidence. First, there was an alleged identification by a single eyewitness, the victim's companion. Eyewitness identifications are never very reliable, but here the identification was particularly unreliable. The witness had been drinking heavily at the time of the shooting. She also had a restricted ability and a limited opportunity to see the shooter in the dark at night.
More importantly, she made her identification of Howard six months after the shooting and at the time was only able to make a tentative identification that Howard looked similar to the shooter. Finally, her version of what happened was directly contradicted by ballistics evidence and the testimony of the witnesses who heard what happened that night.
The only other evidence against Howard was his so-called confession, which he has maintained from the beginning was obtained by brutal torture. Like Madison Hobley, Stanley Howard was suffocated with a plastic bag until he confessed. There is strong evidence that corroborates his account. His confession was obtained by Area 2 detectives. In Howard's case, medical evidence uncovered after trial directly establishes that Howard was physically harmed while in the custody of the Area 2 detectives.
He called his father and said these "detectives are killing me." His father immediately called OPS and the FBI.
In addition, witnesses have come forward after trial who corroborate that Howard was in a battered condition during his Area 2 interrogation. Having looked at all of the evidence of torture, even an investigator for the Chicago Police Department's own Office of Professional Standards has concluded that Howard indeed was abused by Area 2 detectives before he gave his so-called confession.
In April of 1986, Aaron Patterson was tortured by Area 2 Violent Crimes detectives, under the direct supervision and with the active participation of Commander Burge.
During the initial interrogation, Patterson repeatedly denied his involvement in the murder of a South Side couple who had allegedly been selling illegal weapons.
Detectives subsequently handcuffed Patterson behind his back, turned out the lights, suffocated him with a gray plastic typewriter cover over his head and struck him in the chest.
When Patterson refused to confess, he was suffocated and beaten about his body again. He was also threatened with a gun by Burge himself.
When Patterson was left alone in the interrogation room he scratched into a bench with a paper clip that he was tortured and that his statements to the police were false. Listen to these chilling words: "I lie about murders, police threaten me with violence, slapped and suffocated me with plastic . . . signed false statement to murders."
The record in Mr. Patterson's case shows that he was one of the last of the approximately 60 known victims who have alleged torture by Chicago Police detectives at Area 2 Police Headquarters from 1972 to 1986.
Mr. Patterson's father was a Chicago Police Lieutenant, but perhaps he was the wrong color. Despite repeatedly calling for his father, there was no mercy, no benefit of a doubt. The beatings continued.
As a direct result of his torture, the detectives claim to have obtained an oral confession which was introduced at Patterson's trial and which is the only remaining "evidence" which supports his conviction.
There is no physical or forensic evidence which links Patterson to the crimes. Further, Marva Hall, a young girl who testified at trial that Patterson made an admission to her, has recanted, and has accused the police and a former Assistant Cook County State's Attorney of coercing this false testimony from her.
In addition, there is an affidavit that another man who was an acquaintance of the victims actually committed the crimes. That suspect has subsequently committed a very similar crime.
Finally, fingerprints from the scene were previously tested and did not match Patterson's. If tested today these fingerprints could help to identify the real killer, but the State's Attorneys Office reports that this evidence has been lost.
Unfortunately, much of the evidence of this systematic Area 2 torture and abuse had not emerged at the time of Mr. Patterson's trial in 1989. It was on the basis of this evidence, as well as the incompetence of his trial lawyers that the Illinois Supreme Court sent Mr. Patterson's case back to the Cook County courts for a new hearing into whether this evidence requires that Mr. Patterson receive a new trial a year ago. There clearly has, however, been no rush to do justice.
Aaron's case is another one in which Dave Protess, Paul Ciolino and the Northwestern students have been investigating.
Leroy Orange was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1985 based exclusively on a confession obtained at Area 2 Police Headquarters. Orange consistently maintained that his confession was false and that he gave it only because he was tortured by Jon Burge. At his first court appearance in 1984, Orange told his public defender and the judge that he had been tortured by the police.
The lawyer who he retained after his first court appearance told the press that the police obtained a confession from Orange by electro-shocking him using a black box.
The only evidence against Orange was his confession. Ordinarily, the admissibility of a confession would be challenged by a defense lawyer, especially when his client claims that his confession was coerced. Coerced confessions are notoriously unreliable. However, Orange's lawyer, who has repeatedly been disciplined, never demanded a hearing to determine the admissibility of Orange's confession. Thus Mr. Orange's confession was introduced into evidence without being challenged by defense counsel.
During the 17 years since his conviction, Orange has sought a hearing to prove that his confession was false. Despite the fact that during this time overwhelming evidence of a pattern and practice of torture at Area 2 has emerged, Illinois Courts have repeatedly denied Orange's request for a hearing on his confession. The prosecution has opposed Orange's repeated requests on procedural grounds and even seeks to bar evidence of the torture that led to of Orange's.
In other words, the prosecution intends to ask a jury to execute Orange based on his confession, but the courts will not allow Orange to inform the jury about the torture that led the confession.
I'm not a lawyer, I am a pharmacist. But how does this happen? It appears to me, the system has failed Orange by relying on procedural technicalities at the exclusion of the quest for truth.
The system has failed all four men. It has failed the people of this state.
In some way, I can see how rogue cops, 20 years ago, can run wild. I can see how, in a different time, they perhaps were able to manipulate the system.
What I can't understand is why the courts can't find a way to act in the interest of justice. Here we have four more men who were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to die by the state for crimes the courts should have seen they did not commit. We have evidence from four men who did not know each other, all getting beaten and tortured and convicted on the basis of the confessions they allegedly provide.
They are perfect examples of what is so terribly broken about our system.
These cases call out for someone to act. They call out for justice, they cry out for reform.
Their cries have fallen on deaf ears, until now.
It reminds me of a story I heard about President Lincoln, in Sen. Robert Dole's recent book.
As President Lincoln shouldered the burden of trying to fight the bloody civil war and saving our young republic, he often had to review individual cases of men who were to face the firing squad.
These were young men who were found guilty of crimes such as desertion while serving the Union in battles in which brother fought brother spilling their blood and dying on grisly battlefields.
President Lincoln reviewed one such case with a senior army officer and noticed that there were no letters or pleas for mercy or pardon from anyone on behalf of the accused soldier. "It's true," the officer said, "He has no friends."
To that President Lincoln replied, "Then I shall be his friend" and signed the pardon request.
Today, I shall be a friend to Madison Hobley, Stanley Howard, Aaron Patterson and LeRoy Orange.
Today I am pardoning them of the crimes for which they were wrongfully prosecuted and sentenced to die.
I have reviewed these cases and I believe a manifest injustice has occurred. I have reviewed these cases and I believe these men are innocent. I still have some faith in the system that eventually these men would have received justice in our courts. But the old adage is true: justice delayed is justice denied.
There is another tragedy here because of the brutal police work of John Burge it almost ensures that the truth will never really be found. The tragedy is compounded and the families of the victims of these long ago murders may never know what happened to their loved ones and why.
Stanley Howard will unfortunately not be released from prison today. He will still need to serve time for a robbery, kidnap, sex assault case.
However, the evidence in that case is also very troubling. He has not yet petitioned for relief in that case. I would recommend his lawyers do so, and I urge the next administration pick up where I am leaving off. That case may well be as tainted as his murder conviction. If so, let us right those wrongs and quickly.
Let's promote justice.
A few weeks after I announced the moratorium. I appointed the smartest, most dedicated citizens I could find--prosecutors, defense lawyers, former elected officials and business people--to a special commission. It was chaired by former Federal Judge Frank McGarr and co-chaired by former U.S. Attorney Thomas Sullivan and former U. S. Senator Paul Simon.
I asked them to do only one thing: to study the system from top to bottom. I told them until I can be sure with moral certainty that no innocent person will be sent to death row and executed by the state, no one would meet that fate.
They worked for more than two years. They studied every aspect of the system, from the time the police arrive at the scene of a murder, to the last ditch appeals to the supreme court, and all points in between.
Over two years they reviewed each and every case of the exonerated inmates, the inmates on death row, and of the nearly 150 cases that had been reversed or remanded. Every single case!
After all of that, they developed 85 recommendations. 85 ways to improve our badly broken system. They acknowledged they could never make it perfect, but they said their recommendations could dramatically reduce the chance that we would wrongfully convict and execute an innocent person.
The recommendations included the creation of a statewide panel to review prosecutors' request for the death penalty; banning death sentences on the mentally retarded; significantly reducing the number of death eligibility factors; videotaping interrogations of homicide suspects; and controlling the use of testimony by jail house informants.
I mention it now so that you will understand the thoroughness of our review. And that was only the beginning.
We took the commission's recommendations and drafted legislation. It was a damn good package would have dramatically improved our state's capital punishment system.
We introduced that bill three times last spring and this fall. Three times. And each time, the legislature punted.
I do not understand that. 13 innocent men were nearly executed. Countless flaws are highlighted. The system has proved itself to be wildly inaccurate, unjust, unable to separate the innocent from the guilty and, at times, racist. And yet we couldn't pass a package in Springfield.
What does it take. Now that we can say the number of wrongfully convicted men is 17, will that be enough?
Last spring there was talk of what to do with the inmates currently on death row convicted in our deeply flawed system. I was challenged by a young prosecutor at a conference in Oregon who asked me why, if I was so concerned about the state of our capital punishment system, I didn't just commute the cases of all inmates on death row. I said that was something we would have to look at.
In fact, defense lawyers, like Andrea and Larry, had long planned to petition the prisoner review board to do just that, to fight for clemency for their clients because they could not obtain justice in any other way.
My power to grant these pardons is constitutionally provided. The state Supreme Court has cited the Governor's power in explaining their restraint in acting in some death penalty cases they review.
What has been most troubling is that this is most clearly not limited to our capital cases. They only have received the most attention.
There have been at least 33 inmates, convicted of murder and serving sentences other than the sentence of death, who have been found innocent and released from prison since 1977.
We are adding to that number today, with other cases that we have reviewed, through the normal cases we review from the Prisoner Review Board.
There is the case of Miguel Castillo who spent 11 years behind bars for murder. A Cuban immigrant, Mr. Castillo was arrested for the murder of another Cuban DemigrDe. He was charged, convicted and sentenced to 48 years in prison.
There is only one problem. Mr. Castillo was in jail the night of the murder, serving a 60 day sentence for breaking into a store.
Mr. Castillo said nothing will bring back the 11 years of his life he lost. It seems a travesty to me that is should take so long. But a pardon will at least acknowledge the state made a mistake.
And finally there is the landmark case of Gary Dotson, the first real DNA case in Illinois. My friend, who I served under, Gov. James R. Thompson, released Gary Dotson from prison after the rape victim, Cathy Crowell Webb, recanted her testimony and said she made up the story of being raped by Gary Dotson while she was a teenager in order to cover her relationship with her then boyfriend.
Gary served 12 years in prison. After the recantation, Gov. Thompson held clemency hearings. It was before the advent of reliable DNA evidence, so Gary was never pardoned. He has struggled to rebuild his life ever since. Now we have the DNA evidence that proves Gary is innocent. We will clear Gary's name once and for all.
I have acted today in what I believe is the interest of justice. It is not only the right thing to do, I believe it is on the only thing to do.
If you learn nothing else, follow the example of your teacher, Andrea Lyon or of Larry Marshall, or Dave Protess. Realize the tremendous opportunity it is to be allowed to practice law. Realize the tremendous power that you have to do good. Remember, whether you are a prosecutor, a defender, that when you step into a courtroom, you should be engaged in a passionate search for the truth, rather than a zealous pursuit of a victory for victory's sake.
Lives hang in the balance.
I have finished my review of the capital cases. It has been a thorough, exhaustive process. We have gone over cases again and again, each and every case.
At stake is whether some, all or none of these inmates on death row will have their sentences commuted from death to life without parole.
One of the things discussed with family members. life without parole was seen as a life filled with perks and benefits.
But I would point out for you a suit in Livingston County where a judge ruled the state corrections department cannot force feed two corrections inmates who are on a hunger strike. The judge ruled that suicide by hunger strike was not an irrational action by the inmates, given what their future holds.
I will tell you there are prisons where there is no air conditioning and the conditions are pretty stark. And in every prison, the inmates are told what to do at all times. They have no freedom. Let's keep things in perspective.
Today I have taken extraordinary action to correct manifest wrongs. As we speak, letters are being prepared and sent for overnight delivery to the survivors of victims and relatives of inmates, to inform them first of my decision in the mass petitions for commutation. Tomorrow, after families have received those letters, I will make my decision public.
Four years ago, I never would have guessed the road would lead me here today: to championing reforms of our capital punishment system, to intervening in the effort to help four death row inmates and four other men find justice where the courts would not grant relief.
You too will see many twists and turns in the road ahead of you. I can't say that I would wish upon you the experience such as the burdens I have faced in this process. But remember that each day you live, your experience will prepare you for a challenge you may not foresee. Grab it with gusto. And fight for justice.
Thank you and God bless you.
CHICAGO - A plainspoken conservative in a plain suit from a Plains state, Illinois Gov. George Ryan is a most unlikely champion for death penalty reform. He hardly gave capital punishment any thought at all, save for a brief period in 1977 when, as a young state legislator, he voted to reinstate it.
Executions were, before and after his vote, one of those faraway facts of justice in the United States, he said in a recent interview, a punishment for the worst criminals. It didn't have much to do with a pharmacist from the town of Kankakee.
Then, in 1999, Ryan, famously gruff, even surly, became governor. And even as he was moving into the governor's mansion in Springfield, the death penalty system began crumbling around him.
An old-style Illinois politician adept at the art of the backroom deal, he wanted to pay attention to the state's crumbling bridges, to early-childhood education, to doing away with tollbooths. By March 1999, however, four Death Row inmates had been freed since he had taken office, 13 since he had helped restart executions in the state.
Ryan, now 68, was being pulled into the mess. And then, in the early hours of March 17, he presided over the execution of Andrew Kokoraleis, a mutilation murderer.
"It was a very painful, soul-searching journey in wrestling with the decision that meant a man's life," said Jeremy Margolis, a Chicago attorney and Ryan confidant who sat with the governor during the execution. "By the time the next case was on its way, he was pretty much determined that the system was so flawed that, sooner or later, he was likely to get a case that was flawed."
So, in the simple, grammatically complicated language that is his style, Ryan called a moratorium on executions. And he appointed a panel to investigate Illinois' process for meting out death. A supporter of the penalty for his entire adult life, he was inundated with calls and letters of support, from across the country and around the world.
On Friday, he pardoned four men from Death Row, and on Saturday, he granted clemency to all 167 condemned inmates, reducing most of their sentences to life in prison without parole and three of them to 40 years.
George Ryan was born in Iowa and moved as a small boy with his father, a pharmacist, and mother to the blue-collar town of Kankakee, about 60 miles south of Chicago, "but a thousand miles away in a lot of ways," he said.
He served two years in the Army in Korea, moved home and went to pharmacy school. He married his high-school sweetheart, Lura Lynn Ryan, with whom he now has six children and 14 grandchildren.
After school, he began working in the family pharmacy. But politics soon pulled at him -- conservative Midwestern politics.
In 1972, he won a seat in the Illinois General Assembly. In 1977, he pushed a green button to vote yes on the issue of reinstating the death penalty.
He became speaker of the House, then lieutenant governor, then secretary of state in 1991. As secretary, he lowered the legal limit for drunk driving, required school bus drivers to undergo background checks and otherwise continued his career as a straight-ahead, law-and-order man, a solid Midwest conservative.
He is still just that, Ryan said recently. The search for justice should not be the domain of one political party or school of thought.
"I never intended to be an activist on this issue," he said Friday. He just didn't want his state to execute an innocent person.
Anthony Porter (right), who served more than 16 years in prison after being convicted of murder, in 1982, and was later released in 1999 after another man, Alstory Simon, confessed to the crime. The Porter case was instrumental in the campaign to end capital punishment in the state of Illinois.
Simon recanted his confession and alleged he was coerced into making it by a private investigator, Paul Ciolino, working with the journalism students from Northwestern University, who he says promised him he would get an early release and a share of the profits from book and movie deals. A prosecutor said there was powerful evidence that Porter was responsible.
"In the best interest of justice, we could reach no other conclusion but that the investigation of this case has been so deeply corroded and corrupted that we can no longer maintain the legitimacy of this [Alstory Simon] conviction," Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said at a news conference. She said because of protections against double jeopardy, there is no legal way to retry Porter.
Alstory Simon was released in October 2014.
Alvarez said the "tactics and antics" of investigator, Paul Ciolino, and professor David Protess could have added up to criminal charges of obstruction of justice and intimidation of a witness at the time, but that it is now impossible to file charges because the statute of limitations has run out.
Protess, who retired from Northwestern in 2011 amid questions about his investigative methods, did not respond to phone calls.
Ciolino, who like Protess has denied acting improperly, released a statement that emphasized that Simon confessed multiple times, including to a TV reporter and his own lawyer.