St. Louis Public Radio News
4:17 pm
Sun January 12, 2003

Illinois Death Row Cleared

Chicago, IL – Illinois Governor George Ryan is emptying the state death house by commuting the sentences of 156 condemned inmates.

Ryan, in a speech yesterday in Chicago, said the system is arbitrary, capricious and therefore immoral. He said it is plagued by the "demon of error" because of mistakes at all levels.

The Republican, who leaves office Monday, said he would no longer "tinker with the machinery of death."

State prison officials say the sentences of all but three of the death row inmates will be commuted to life in prison without parole. Three will have their sentences reduced to less than life and could eventually be released.

Ryan's action has been harshly criticized by relatives of crime victims, prosecutors and Illinois' incoming governor, who said Ryan has made a "big mistake."

Some of the men Governor George Ryan has pardoned were in the audience when Ryan announced he was commuting the sentences of all inmates on Illinois' death row.

Ryan framed the death penalty issue as one of the great civil rights struggles of our time during his nationally televised peech from Northwestern University.

The Corrections Department says there are 167 inmates on death row. Ryan says the Illinois death penalty system is immoral.
Ryan's action caps a three-year campaign to reform the death penalty process.

On Friday, Ryan pardoned four death row inmates who he said were wrongfully convicted.

Corrections department spokesman Sergio Molina says Governor George Ryan's order to commute the sentences of all Illinois death row inmates applies to 167 people.

Molina says that number includes some inmates who are not currently in the state's custody; they are in county jails being sentenced for other crimes or undergoing new sentencing hearings in their death penalty cases.