Ryan leaves death row empty

By Gus Bode

a href=”https://www.dailyegyptian.com/contactus.html”bDE Staff Reporter/b/abrspan class=”realsmall”bDaily Egyptian/b/span

164 death sentences have been commuted to life in prison without parole

Ryan will leave the governor’s office today with death row vacant, a historic moment for the long-debated capital punishment system in Illinois.


After a three-year examination of the state’s death penalty laws, Ryan announced Saturday his decision to issue a blanket commutation, which converted every death-penalty sentence to life in prison without parole for more than 160 inmates, including 4 women.

Before Ryan made a decision for a blanket commutation, half of the sentences in the nearly 300 capital cases had been reversed for a new trial.

“The Illinois capital punishment system is broken. It has taken innocent men to a hair’s breadth escape from their unjust execution. Legislatures past have refused to fix it. Our new legislature and our new governor must act to rid our state of the shame of threatening the innocent with execution and the guilty with unfairness,” Ryan said in his speech at Northwestern University Saturday on his decision to commute the sentences of inmates on death row.

Students and local residents gathered Saturday in Carbondale to protest the death penalty and show support for Ryan’s decision.

“I hope this makes Southern Illinois look and say Ryan is right and maybe the death penalty isn’t administered the right way,” said Elsie Speck, co-chairwoman for the Southern Illinois Moratorium Against the Death Penalty.

In addition, Ryan pardoned four men Friday. Another three men had their sentences commuted to 40-year terms.

The four pardoned men are, Madison Hobley, who had no prior convictions but was found guilty of killing seven people, including his wife and infant son in a 1987 fire; Aaron Patterson, convicted of a 1986 South Chicago double murder; Leroy Orange, convicted of killing four people in a South Side apartment in 1985, and Stanley Howard, who 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.


“Courageous. This is courageous. Besides the right thing to do, his decision will be a statement of Illinois to the rest of the United States,” said Jane Otte, member of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, who demonstrated Saturday.

Ryan placed a moratorium on the Illinois death penalty after 13 death row inmates were exonerated in 2000. The Tribune brought national coverage to the flaws in the Illinois justice system after the Chicago police force was found to have tortured suspects during questioning.

Gov.-elect Rod Blagojevich, who will be sworn into office today, has promised to retain the moratorium on the death penalty, although he does not agree with Ryan’s decision.

“The goal here is to serve justice, and I oppose blanket clemencies and blanket pardons,” Blagojevich told the Tribune Friday. “I hope he reviewed all those cases carefully and he reached his conclusions based on each individual fact pattern in each case. If he did that and he made a judgment that justice will be served by that, then I have no quarrel with that.”

Ryan, who has been under fire for recent developments in the license-for-bribes scandal, made national headlines with his announcement. While some laud his decision, others do not harbor the same sentiments, including some victim’s families and prosecutors. Each victim’s family received a letter from Ryan hours before he publicly announced his decision to issue a blanket commutation.

Although death row remains empty, there are currently more than 60 capital cases pending trial in Illinois where prosecutors have formally declared intentions to seek the death penalty.

“It is a really important step to recognize the state cannot sanction the killing of another human being. If murder is wrong, then murder is wrong,” said Heather Howley, an SIU graduate student and a member of Amnesty International, who was protesting the death penalty and war Saturday. “It is a hard message to say death is wrong and then institute the death penalty.”

Reporter Jackie Keane can be reached at [email protected]