Chicago Indymedia :
Chicago Indymedia

News :: [none]

Tide turns against death penalty, foes say

March 11, 2002


Death penalty opponents say they've made big gains in the two years since Gov. Ryan imposed a moratorium on executions in Illinois:

*Five of the six major Democratic and Republican candidates for governor and three of the four running for attorney general support the moratorium, according to the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty.
*Ryan vetoed two bills that would have expanded the death penalty to include terrorist and gang-related murders.

*Only four death sentences were imposed in Illinois last year, down from 10 in 2000 and the lowest number since 1978, the coalition said. And this year, prosecutors declined to seek the death penalty for Marilyn Lemak, who murdered her three children.

"There's a new moral terrain for the American people," said Sister Helen Prejean, whose book about counseling Death Row inmates inspired the movie "Dead Man Walking." "Support for the death penalty is the lowest it's been in 20 years."

Prejean was among the speakers at Death Sentence 2002, a weekend interfaith conference at DePaul University. The keynote speaker, Cardinal Francis George, said the death penalty is expensive and discriminatory and doesn't deter crime. And because of flaws in the criminal justice system, it's inevitable innocent people will wind up on Death Row, he said.

The Roman Catholic Church would support capital punishment if there were no other way to protect society, George said. But there is an alternative: life without parole. The death penalty "is unnecessary and therefore immoral."

On Jan, 31, 2000, Ryan put executions on hold, in response to the 13 Death Row inmates in Illinois who had been wrongly convicted. The conference gave Ryan its Cunningham-Carey Award, named after two public defenders who fought the death penalty.

Because Ryan is a conservative Republican, his moratorium provided momentum to death penalty opponents around the country, Prejean said. "It is no small thing that he stood up."

Prejean has accompanied five Death Row inmates to their executions, including two from Louisiana and Virginia who she says were innocent. She is writing about the two in a new book, whose working title is Innocence Betrayed. Readers, she said, "will be the jury they never had."

There are 157 men and women on Death Row in Illinois, according to a report by the Coalition Against the Death Penalty. Each one "was sent there under a broken system that every right-thinking person in our state now agrees is prone to fatal miscarriages of justice in capital cases," the report said.

Copyright 2000, Digital Chicago Inc.



Account Login

Media Centers


This site made manifest by dadaIMC software