* A very good point by the Tribune…
If there was one moment when Illinois’ death penalty began to die, it was on Feb. 5, 1999, when a man named Anthony Porter walked out of jail a free man.
Sitting in the governor’s mansion, George Ryan watched Porter’s release on television and wondered how a man could come within 50 hours of being executed, only to be set free by the efforts of a journalism professor, his students and a private investigator.
“And so I turned to my wife, and I said, how the hell does that happen? How does an innocent man sit on death row for 15 years and gets no relief,” Ryan recalled last year. “And that piqued my interest, Anthony Porter.”
To be sure, by the time Porter was set free, the foundation of Illinois’ death penalty system already had begun to erode by the steady stream of inmates who had death sentences or murder convictions vacated: Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez in the Jeanine Nicarico case, the men known as the Ford Heights Four, Gary Gauger.
Ryan placed a moratorium on executions not long afterward. Prosecutors have had 12 years since Porter was released to find a real and lasting solution to the problem of wrongful convictions. They’ve mostly had to be dragged kicking and screaming the whole way. What we saw time and again was turf protection and denial, even though dozens of people condemned to die have been found to be innocent.
There’s a prevalent notion in our society that being “soft on crime” is a bad thing. Yet, to me, stopping the government from killing innocent people isn’t about “softness,” it’s about setting limits on authority. The government abused its authority (accidentally, in many cases) for far too many years. Prosecutors and death penalty proponents probably figured - as I did - that there was almost no way the General Assembly would ever enact a repeal, so they didn’t have to worry too much about real reform. And now that the repeal has been signed into law, reform or limitation proposals have cropped up which would have been immediately dismissed out of hand as wimpy liberal claptrap just a few months ago. Too late.
I’ve been fortunate enough never to have a friend or relative murdered. One of my cousins was busted for a double-murder several years back, but, frankly, I don’t care what happens to him. I hadn’t seen him in years, don’t know where he is now and his fate just doesn’t concern me. If the abolition bill had failed and he was eventually executed, I wouldn’t have shed a tear. I figure he’s guilty and he’ll get whatever’s coming to him.
The point is, I have no sympathy at all for murderers. Nobody does. But the system obviously broke down and reform was resisted at almost every, single turn.
Jim Thompson reinstituted the death penalty back in 1977. Fourteen years later, Thompson left office
without a single having dealt with just a single death penalty case arriving on his desk (and only then because the convict didn’t want to stop his own execution and rejected offers of help). The system is exceedingly slow, cumbersome, horribly expensive and fatally flawed. From the Tribune’s editorial…
Quinn’s critics will point to the 15 murderers he has let off death row.
One of those inmates is Brian Dugan, who confessed to killing 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico of Naperville in 1983. We’ve talked to more than one person who said they supported banning the death penalty but wouldn’t mind if Dugan was executed first. That sums up the mixed feelings many people shared as Quinn mulled his decision.
This would be a good time to remind ourselves that two innocent men — Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez — spent years on death row after being wrongly convicted of Nicarico’s murder. That’s a powerful rebuttal to prosecutors’ argument that banning the death penalty robs them of the only appropriate punishment for the worst crimes. Justice isn’t served if the wrong person pays, especially with his or her life.
It’s also a good time to remind ourselves that, through all the twists and turns in that case, Brian Dugan remains alive 28 years after that terrible murder. If Quinn had vetoed this repeal, Dugan would still live many more years before he met the executioner–if he ever did. The death penalty has hardly been swift and sure punishment.
That’s exactly right.
* Lawmakers proposing legislation to reinstate capital punishment
* Downstate lawmakers: Death penalty repeal was wrong
* Quinn’s death penalty ban outrages victims’ families
* Victim Of Former Death Row Inmate Not Happy With Repeal
* Politicians, prosecutors react to Quinn ending death penalty
* Prosecutors: We’ve lost leverage without threat of death penalty
* Local officials react to abolishment of death penalty
* T. Scott Webb disappointed by Quinn’s decision
* Prosecutors pan Quinn’s abolishing death penalty
* The 15 death row inmates and when they were sent there
* Death penalty ban could affect extradition
* Death penalty’s opponent almost killed
* Death penalty abolished in Illinois: Coleman attorney calls Quinn’s decision ‘historic’ and ‘appropriate’
* Editorial: Death penalty repeal a victory for justice
* Gov. Pat Quinn turned to Bible and writings of late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin for difficult death penalty decision
* State’s last execution: An unforgettable moment