St. Louis Public Radio News
4:23 pm
Thu February 27, 2003

Illinois Death Row: Population One

Charleston, Ill. – Illinois' death row now has a population of one. A jury in east-central Illinois Wednesday evening sentenced a man to death for killing a college student nearly two years ago.

Anthony Mertz is the first person to get the death sentence since former Governor George Ryan cleared death row last month.

But a spokesman for Governor Rod Blagojevich says no one will be executed until lawmakers pass reforms to the capital punishment system.

The Crime

Mertz was convicted of killing Eastern Illinois University student Shannon McNamara.

In closing arguments, prosecutors said the crime was deserving of the death sentence. But Mertz' defense attorney David Williams pleaded with the jury to spare the suspect's life.

Williams argued that a troubled childhood, years of alcohol and drug abuse, and averse reactions to anti-malaria drugs contributed to Mertz's behavior.

The 21-year-old McNamara of Rolling Meadows was sexually assaulted and strangled in the off-campus apartment where she was living while pursuing a teaching degree. Mertz told the jury yesterday he doesn't know if he committed the crime.

Governor's Reaction

A spokesman for Governor Rod Blagojevich says the governor has extended former Governor George Ryan's moratorium on executions and no one will be executed until the Legislature enacts reforms.

Tom Schafer says the governor intends to work with legislators to make sure there is reform before there are executions.

Northwestern University law professor Larry Marshall says he is not surprised by Mertz's sentence, but he says he hopes it keeps up the pressure for death penalty reform.