LeNie column for 1/22

By Gus Bode

I commend Gov. Ryan for his courageous decision to commute the death sentences of those on Death Row in Illinois. The decision was painful and difficult, especially for the families of victims. Many expressed anger with Ryan for his momentous decision. However, the anger should be directed at a criminal justice system that has been so defective that 17 people who were on death row were discovered to be innocent. For those who say these reversals of fortune prove the system works, my response is the system didn’t work. It was law students, not prosecutors and defense attorneys, who were instrumental in researching the evidence against the condemned on death row. Even critics of Ryan admit that the system was seriously

I have debated with friends who are pro-death penalty and there is a key question that always leaves them pondering the issue of, what if it was you? What if you were on Death Row and you were innocent? What if there was an eyewitness against you who swore that you were the person guilty? What if you were beaten into signing a confession? What if an overzealous prosecutor refused to consider any other evidence? What if you did not have an alibi or you did and it was not believed? Suppose you were convicted by a jury that wasn’t made up of your peers but one that secretly believed you and your ethnic group is capable of the act that you are accused. Unfortunately, many criminal defendants have been tried and convicted and sentenced to death under many of these above -mentioned circumstances.

It is without doubt there are those who are guilty of the crimes that they were convicted; these individuals should be given life in prison without the possibility of parole with prison privileges or benefits, similar to John Gotti who spent 23 hours in his cell. Nevertheless, the key problem with the death penalty in Illinois is that the whole system is in disarray due to corruption, illegal evidence, dishonesty, criminal eyewitnesses, single eyewitnesses, police corruption, overworked public defenders and defendants not having a jury of their peers.


Additionally, many defendants with obvious mental problems are categorized with other inmates. Fortunately, Governor Ryan realized that the only way to repair the system was to commute all the sentences as a result of the fact that those who were convicted were convicted under a corrupt system. It is akin to finding an insect in your soup at a public restaurant. The entire place has to be fumigated.

A commission was formed to review and make recommendations regarding reformation of the death penalty. There were several suggestions made by the commission, which included in all death

penalty cases using DNA evidence to exclude or confirm. The Illinois

legislature did not act on these recommendations because it is politically popular to support the death penalty. It’s a result of the failure of the legislature and a corrupt criminal justice system that caused Governor Ryan to make this most controversial decision. I hope that the Supreme Court will one day reverse itself and realize that its ruling in 1968 was indeed correct. Capital punishment is cruel and unusual and fraught with problems, namely the possibility of killing the wrong person. I thank Governor Ryan for ensuring that Illinois will not become a state like Texas where their motto appears to be:You convict them and we kill them.