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Abolition thoughts

Thursday, Mar 10, 2011

* 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.

* Roundup…

* 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

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Downstate Illinois - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 10:14 am:

    Now we will have dangerous violent people who should have been executed back walking the streets. Life in prison has never meant life in prison, not even 80 years ago when it just meant 20 to 25 years. This administration has already shown us its willingness to let violent offenders go free early. This bill is all but an act of violence against prison guards, especially since liberals are already targeting the next extreme step in punishment, the Tamms supermax.

  2. - OneMan - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 10:21 am:

    I don’t have a problem with ending it. Our batting average was horrible and one innocent person put to death in my name by state would have been too many.

  3. - wordslinger - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 10:25 am:

    –Now we will have dangerous violent people who should have been executed back walking the streets–

    Everyone who was on Death Row got life without parole. They won’t be on the streets.

  4. - dave - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 10:35 am:

    Now we will have dangerous violent people who should have been executed back walking the streets.

    Do you know what “without parole” means?

  5. - Stones - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 10:36 am:

    Undoubtedly the system is broken but I am having trouble with the blanket communtation of all prisoners on death row. My understanding is that there are 15 persons who most recently were set for execution. My feeling is that these cases should have been reviewed on a case by case basis.

  6. - CircularFiringSquad - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 10:41 am:

    A. Apparently Downdtate Illinois is not big on reading.

    B. The comment about the Cruz prosecutors does not do credit to the really evil and malicious work of jimRYAN and BrickHeadJoe. Their reckless efforts should be reason enough to ban the death penalty in this and every other state.

    BTW it is worth noting that the dude recently convicted of various crimes and i.d’d as a Rezko crony was also a big time contributor to jR and The Brick.
    Funny coincidence …huh

  7. - question? - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 10:42 am:


    If you believe that then you undercut the logic of abolishing the death penalty. No matter how many reviews that you do one of those 15 could be innocent. So, since we are human and make mistakes the logic follows that humans don’t have the ability to make those decisions.

    Now I am waiting for all these death penalty opponents to lead the charge on abortion. That humans don’t have that ability to make that CHOICE… but I doubt it!

  8. - Honest Abe - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 10:43 am:


    For Nathan Leopold, a sentence of “Life plus 99 years” meant about thirty-five years for a murder/kidnapping. Nobody seemed to care that the sentencing judge did not want him to be paroled.

  9. - mokenavince - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 10:45 am:

    Bravo for a thoughtful article. It really makes you think, just how tough a decision this was. If they are all sent to Tamms, it won’t be a picnic
    for the lot of them. May God Bless the the people they killed.

  10. - Secret Square - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 10:47 am:

    “Thompson left office without a single death penalty case arriving on his desk”

    Not quite. If I remember correctly, the very first execution under the new law (Charles Walker) took place in 1990 while Thompson was still in office. Walker wanted to die and had refused all appeals, which speeded up the process in his case.

  11. - Stones - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 10:48 am:


    It will never be a perfect system. That being said each one of these folks have been tried by a jury of their peers and found to be guilty. My statement only favors a review of those 15 cases. I don’t think that is an unreasonable position.

    As far as your abortion comment…..not relevant to the discussion.

  12. - Ghost - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 10:50 am:

    I was thinking about this whole deterrent idea the other day. it occurs to me that the overwhelming majority of murders appear to me to be committed by people who either have a mental imbalance or are under the influence. Do we think a sociopath is less likely to kill somon becuase of the penalty? often times killers are choosing to live outside our laws and social structure.

    Do we really think a killer is restrained over fear of a eath penalty, but unrestarianed over the prospect of life in prison without parol? Is a long slow agaonizing death by age in a prison a rosy picture compared to execution?

  13. - question? - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 10:59 am:

    I respect your position. As far as my comment being relevant; that would be up to the individual to decide.

    I support the DP on limited cases. It is an issue, as is abortion, when looked at from a moral perspective that poses a lot of paradoxes. There has been a lot of arrogance on this issue, A lot of victims have been personally affected. When people bring that up… some on here will google for insults and then direct it at them.
    I happen to be pro-choice on abortion. And pro- civil unions.

  14. - howie - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 11:01 am:

    My view of this issue is admittedly quite narrow. I’m a 22 yr. DOC employee. I’ve been amongst the worst for years. I believe there are certain crimes that deserve nothing short of death. All you have to do is look at the summary of the 15 who just had their death sentences commuted. DOC has stated they will be returned to general population. That’s not Tamms CC. The individuals who are now serving life in prison with no possibility of parole now have absolutely no deterrent to keep them from slitting mine, or any other DOC employee, or inmate’s throat. They’ve already been sentenced to the max.

  15. - Stones - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 11:04 am:

    No worries Question? I respect your opinion as well! I appreciate the good discussion and differing points of view.

    As I tell my friends - there is a reason that Baskin-Robbins has 31 flavors :)

  16. - amalia - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 11:06 am:

    Prosecutors like Anita Alvarez and James McKay deserve more credit than blanket statements that prosecutors fought against reforms. They remain in the thick of fighting for justice and know the consequences. In fact, McKay’s quote in today’s Tribune bears watching, “I do not believe for one second that taking the death penalty off the table will save the State of Illinois any money whatsoever.” Only time will tell if resources are spent trying to get the convicted off a sentence of life without parole.

  17. - question? - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 11:06 am:


    So will these inmates that are serving life be treated any different than other inmates. Also, I have read a lot on Tamms, is it true that they are softening the rules to make it easier on inmates.
    Finally, I appreciate you all of the staff working in prisons.

  18. - howie - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 11:12 am:

    question?….It’s too early to tell if they’ll be treated differently. I don’t see how DOC could keep them isolated, there just isn’t enough room. They’ve been talking about reforms at Tamms for a while now, and I’ve had dealings with several current Tamms inmates over the years, before they were sent there. They don’t get sent there for being nice guys.

  19. - question? - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 11:12 am:


    One more question. Can these inmates be transferred to community centers?

  20. - Old Hand - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 11:12 am:

    Secret Square is correct, Gov. Thompson had at least one execution occur during his tenure.

  21. - howie - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 11:15 am:

    question?….I seriously doubt it.. There’s no way they could meet the security guidelines.

  22. - dave - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 11:15 am:

    @Honest Abe - let me ask you again:

    Do you know what “without parole” means? Leopold didn’t receive a “without parole” sentence.

  23. - piling on - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 11:27 am:

    Charles Walker was executed Sept. 12, 1990.
    Here’s the top of the AP story on the lead up …

    CHICAGO, Sept. 10 (AP) - Gov. James R. Thompson refused today to commute the death sentence of Charles Walker, a convicted murderer, removing one of the last barriers to Mr. Walker’s scheduled execution this week.

    ‘’The imposition of the death penalty in this case is appropriate,'’ the Governor said in a news conference here. ‘’I think Mr. Walker has put himself to death; I’m simply not standing in the way.'’

    Mr. Walker, 50, has repeatedly asked that no further steps be taken to prevent or delay his execution by injection on Wednesday. He was sentenced for the 1983 murder of a young couple in Mascoutah, Ill., in a $40 robbery.

  24. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 11:31 am:

    piling on, that’s why I said there was nothing on his desk.

  25. - Honest Abe - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 11:47 am:

    Actually, the terms of Leopold’s sentence were subsequently “modified” while he was serving his prison sentence, so he became eligible for parole board consideration. It would take too long to explain the details here, but a life sentence “without parole” in Illinois does not always mean that to future politicians with the power to modify sentences.

  26. - frustrated GOP - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 12:03 pm:

    What gets me is Ryan gave the GA a chance to fix the system and they did nothing, officers of the court elected to deal with justice, did nothing, they left him no choice to do what he did. We can’t fix our justice system to a point where we can institute such a punishment. Yes, some people are not worth the bullet,let along all the resources we would give them to make sure we got the right person. If this was a car it would have been recalled along time ago. If it was a manufacturing system it would have been adjusted or scrapped. Why do we allow for less in our justice system?

  27. - MrJM - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 12:07 pm:

    Now we will have dangerous violent people who should have been executed back walking the streets.

    Rubbish. (Please note that I supplied just as much support for my counter-argument as you supplied for your initial assertion)

    – MrJM

  28. - dave - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 12:07 pm:

    **It would take too long to explain the details here, but a life sentence “without parole” in Illinois does not always mean that to future politicians with the power to modify sentences. **

    I am aware of that, but that is true whether the state has the death penalty or not.

  29. - Dirty Red - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 12:15 pm:

    I know the author of this article very well. I made up my mind about capital punishment after watching him go through all of this:

  30. - jake - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 12:24 pm:

    I thought there was nothing new to say against the death penalty, until I saw that one prosecutor argued that the death penalty threat was necessary to force suspects to forego their right to a trial. By that logic one could justify torture too. But the logic is wrong. The right to a trial is as close to sacred as any secular consideration can be.

  31. - dupage dan - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 12:27 pm:

    I, too, worry about the maleable nature of long prison sentences. The capricious nature of parole boards should worry us as much as the over-zealous nature of some prosecutors. All it will take, frankly, is for a clemency petition being honored and the recently released person expressing their gratitude by commiting some other horrific crime to send the electorate on the warpath to have the DP re-instated. There is no perfect system. I wish there was.

    Frankly, looking at Dugan’s most recent mugshot gives me the whillies. I, too, wish that we had kept the DP until he had been dispatched. However, let’s remember our time line, shall we? If the overzealous prosecutor (Jim Ryan) had heeded the call for a review of the facts in the case and had prosecuted the real culprit, Dugan would have been convicted in plenty of time to have been executed before this most recent DP review. Ryan MAY be given a mulligan for the first trial vs Cruz, but the second one was a travesty of justice. Ryan just couldn’t let go of Cruz, for whatever reason, and this (IMO) had a major impact on his political career.

    Regarding the DP, however, that horrific mess caused me, and many others, to question the use of the DP in Illinois. Ryan, and others, were so much in the grip of some fixated tunnel vision that they pursued Cruz when ALL reason pointed to Dugan, and Dugan alone. The prosecutors were the makers of their own defeat.

  32. - Wilson Pickett - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 1:01 pm:

    Just out of curiousity, how much does it cost the Illinois taxpayers per year to keep a man with a “life sentence” in prison? I realize that there will be variances within the state prison system on the figure but even a “rough estimate” will do. Then, what if an individual readily acknowledges that he was responsible for multiple pre-planned murders and states that he will kill again (perhaps someone within the prison system) if he is able to do so? Should Illinois taxpayers be forced to accept the economic cost of “a blanket policy” where “one size fits all”? To me, the economic enormity of the issue would lead me to think that perhaps we should “temporarily postpone all executions” until further “thorough study” of the issue is made. Nobody wants to put an innocent man to death. Nor do I think that anyone wants to play the role of “Motel Eight” for a Richard Speck-type of monster.

  33. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 1:04 pm:

    WP, we have 15 people on death row and the state has spent well over $100 million during the past ten years on their defense. You do the math. Then add in incarceration charges, which are substantially higher for death row.

  34. - Top of State - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 1:07 pm:

    Did the Governor evoke Lincoln on this issue? If so, Abe approved the hanging of several Indians in Minnesota (for insurrection) during the Civil War. Effectively, we are removing the ultimate form of punishment with a “time out”. That is not justice for the victims.

  35. - Bungalow Billy - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 1:11 pm:

    The problem with the Death Penaly is elections. Elections of State’s Attorney’s and legislators. Even if we took the decision out of the hands of local prosecutors and had statewide panels to determine which cases should qualify, the legislators would overreact to a particular situation in response to headlines or whatever. Life or death is simply too important to leave in the hands of humans, especially elected ones.

  36. - VanillaMan - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 1:19 pm:

    I am pro-life on all issues.
    You do not allow your government to take away your most precious gift. I believe in redemption. Keep them locked up until He decides when they are to be brought to the ultimate justice.

  37. - piling on - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 1:37 pm:

    In some since, this is about as anti-MGT Push as you can get.
    See, Quinn’s learning.

  38. - D.P. Gumby - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 1:49 pm:

    top of state—Lincoln famously issued clemency throughout the war.
    He allowed execution of 39 Sioux, but pardoned 260.

  39. - dupage dan - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 1:59 pm:

    Top of State,

    Yes, PQ did evoke AL when he signed the bill.


    Do not agree on the whole time out thing. I know people who have had short stints in prison. Not pleasant at all. If it were so much fun, why aren’t we all breaking the law just so we can have 3 hots and a cot free of charge? Sure beats foreclosure, eh?

  40. - Phineas J. Whoopee - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 3:47 pm:

    Jesus said it would be better to tie a millstone around your neck and drown yourself in the sea than to lead one of his little ones astray.

    The death penalty should be reserved for the most heinous of criminals. The Dahmers, Gacy’s and Dugans ect. They are worthless and should be put down.

  41. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 3:49 pm:

    ===The Dahmers, Gacy’s and Dugans ect. ===

    You do realize the supreme irony of including Dugan in that comment, don’t you?

  42. - Phineas J. Whoopee - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 4:02 pm:

    I guess my point is there are crimes so bad even Jesus thought society would be better off without the criminals alive.

    As far as irony, just because there were two wrongs doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get it right.

  43. - Secret Square - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 4:09 pm:

    Consider for a moment what might have occurred had there been no moratorium and death row inmates had been coming due for execution on a regular basis during the Blago administration. Considering how Blago handled (or more precisely, failed to handle) other types of clemency petitions, I shudder to think what he might have done when faced with an actual life or death decision.

    As much as many of these inmates deserve death, given our state’s track record of incompetent and corrupt executives, I’m kind of relieved they at least won’t have THAT power anymore.

  44. - 47th Ward - Thursday, Mar 10, 11 @ 5:02 pm:

    ===there are crimes so bad even Jesus thought society would be better off without the criminals alive===

    I’m no Biblical scholar, PJW, but I recall Jesus being a victim of capital punishment, not a proponent of it.

  45. - wordslinger - Friday, Mar 11, 11 @ 8:46 am:

    Scott Turow has an excellent column today that should give “conservatives” peace of mind on abolition.,0,7368692.story

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