Moratorium on executions stays

By Gus Bode

Blagojevich will not lift until no mistakes can be made

Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced last week that he will not lift the moratorium on the death penalty, even if reform packages from legislators pass this spring.

Blagojevich, who was once a Cook County prosecutor, entered the governor’s office as a strong supporter of the death penalty. But he said that since there is reform to be made that can ensure no mistakes in the Illinois capital punishment system, he will keep the moratorium imposed by former Gov. George Ryan.

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Ryan commuted sentences for 167 inmates on death row just days before leaving office. Consequently, death row was empty when Blagojevich took office.

“The reality is if no one is on death row and there are six appeals to go though to get the death penalty, then what have you done,” said Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro.

Despite the moratorium, capital cases have continued. But before an inmate is placed on death row, they are allowed three state appeals and five federal appeals.

Unless Blagojevich was elected to another term, he would probably not even have the opportunity to make a decision regarding a capital case.

“In a four-year term, it is almost surely unlikely, in an eight-year term it is possible,” said SIU professor of law, Bill Schroeder.

According to Schroeder, the minimum time an inmate spends on death row is five years, though seven is closer to average.

Ryan, like Blagojevich, entered office as a supporter of the death penalty. But because of the errors that were found in the system, Ryan issued a moratorium on the death penalty and appointed a commission to study the death penalty in Illinois.

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“Gov. Ryan, who also supported the death penalty in his life, did a complete turnaround, so we hope the same for Blagojevich,” said Elsie Speck, a southern Illinois representative for Illinois Coalition against the Death Penalty.

Blagojevich said, while he does not want to get rid of the death penalty, that the system needs several reforms.

“The decision for me on an issue like lifting the moratorium won’t be driven by what happens in the state Senate or the House,” Blagojevich told the Chicago Tribune. “It will be driven by whether or not the system in Illinois has been reformed in such a way where we can have no doubt that we’re (not) going to make any mistakes. And it begs the question of whether we can ever get to a point in Illinois that we can feel comfortable with that.”

Bost labeled the Blagojevich’s announcement as a “good press move.”

Not everyone thinks the same as Bost. Speck said that the coalition hopes to show Blagojevich that the death penalty is not the answer in Illinois. The coalition plans to send letters to Blagojevich, complimenting him on his efforts.

“It [the death penalty] is a violent reaction to some other violence that has been committed,” Speck said. “It just perpetuates violence.”

Both the House and Senate are working and revising separate reform packages.

“The modifications need to be put in place just to ensure innocent people are not put to death,” Bost said. Bost, a supporter of the death penalty, said once reforms are in place it should be enough for the death penalty to resume.

Reporter Jackie Keane can be reached at [email protected]

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