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In Illinois, Reviews Begin On Death Row


October 15, 2002

Chicago - This morning, members of Illinois' Prisoner Review Board will begin revisiting a quarter-century's worth of the state's most brutal crimes.

For nine days, they will call the names of almost every inmate on death row for clemency hearings ordered by Gov. George Ryan.

They will listen as a parade of defense lawyers, prosecutors, expert witnesses and victims' relatives argue for or against execution.

In all, at least 140 of Illinois' 160 death row inmates will get a hearing. It is the largest number the board has considered at one time, and probably the most sweeping review in U.S. history.

The board will make confidential recommendations, but any decision to commute sentences will be up to Ryan, a Republican who has been at the center of the debate on capital punishment since he ordered a moratorium on executions in January 2000.

Since the state resumed capital punishment in 1977, 13 inmates have seen their death sentences overturned, including some found innocent; 12 inmates were executed during the same period.

There has been speculation that if the hearings turn up a hint of just one more innocent person, Ryan will grant clemency to all.

"He fears there is another Anthony Porter case or another Rolando Cruz case out there," Ryan spokesman Dennis Culloton said, referring to two death row inmates who were exonerated in new trials.

Some say the effects of a blanket clemency, which Ryan has hinted at in recent months, would ripple beyond Illinois.

"One thing it would definitely say to governors and legislatures around the country is, if you don't address the flaws in the system, this is an option," said Peter Loge of The Justice Project in Washington, D.C.

Prosecutors demanded yesterday that Ryan give each case individual consideration.

"Gov. Ryan owes no less to the victims and their families to give this case-by-case consideration," said Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine. "He owes no less to the citizens of this state. There should be no wholesale action taken by the governor."

Defense attorneys are expected to attack the death penalty on two fronts: They will say Illinois' capital punishment system is so flawed it cannot be trusted, and they will try to poke holes in specific cases.

"A number of cases the board will hear rest upon unreliable evidence," said Thomas Geraghty, a law school professor at Northwestern University who is handling three cases.

Geraghty will claim, for example, that Ronald Kitchen confessed to the 1988 drug-related murders of five people only after he was beaten by detectives, whose tactics allegedly ranged from pummeling suspects to putting guns into their mouths and plastic bags over their heads.,0,4646272.story



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