Illinois death penalty

Illinois is my "homeland" though I currently reside in Texas. Therefore, the recent comments and actions regarding the death penalty in Illinois by Illinois Governor George Ryan are of special interest to me, relataive to those of former George Bush.

Compare the words of GOP Governor George:

"Many people express the desire to have capital punishment. Few, however, seem prepared to address the tough questions that arise when the system fails. It is easier and more comfortable for politicians to be tough on crime and support the death penalty. It wins votes. But when it comes to admitting that we have a problem, most run for cover."

with those of former GOP Governor George:

"If you�re asking me whether or not as to the innocence or guilt or if people have had adequate access to the courts in Texas, I believe they have."

The death penalty system in Texas is by far the most prolific - and possibly the most flawed, as a study by The Texas Defense Service (TDS), a nonprofit group of defense lawyers, found. One of the charges against the Texas system is that it relies on "junk science" for its prosecutions:

The TDS report also criticizes prosecutors� use of what it refers to as �junk science� to win death penalty cases. In Texas, to impose the death penalty, jurors must be convinced, among other things, that the defendants will continue to be a threat to society if released from prison. The report dismisses the psychiatrists who testified in 121 cases that defendants would continue to be a threat to society. Such testimony, the TDS says, has been rejected as junk science and condemned by the American Psychiatric Association and various studies, concluding predicting methods can be inaccurate up to two-thirds of the time.

In addition, TDS investigators called the use of hair comparison evidence misleading and inaccurate. According to the TDS, a number if studies have shown that hair comparison is an extremely subjective procedure. The Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, the report says, created a testing program in various forensic sciences, including hair comparison. that showed that hair analysis was the least reliable of all techniques, with error rates as high as 67 percent. The TDS recommended that prosecutors use more reliable mitochondrial DNA technology.

Body and Soul has a thought-provoking post on teh courage and principled nature of Gov. Ryan's decision which is worth reading. My friend Suman has a dissenting view, which bemoans the fact that Ryan acted unilaterally:

I find it disgusting that one man... one man saw fit to overturn the decisions of hundreds of jurors, judges and cavalierly dismissed the hard work of an equal number of state prosecutors and their staff.

But isn't acting unilaterally the whole point of a Chief Executive? Someone has to step forward and make a hard decision when things break. And the "hard work" of the jurors and judges was quite assuredly broken in Illinois:

Professors Larry Marshall, Dave Protess have and their students along with investigators Paul Ciolino have gone above the call. They freed the falsely accused Ford Heights Four, they saved Anthony Porter's life, they fought for Rolando Cruz and Alex Hernandez. They devoted time and effort on behalf of Aaron Patterson, a young man who lost 15 years of his youth sitting among the condemned, and LeRoy Orange, who lost 17 of the best years of his life on death row.

It is also proper that we are together with dedicated people like Andrea Lyon who has labored on the front lines trying capital cases for many years and who is now devoting her passion to creating an innocence center at De Paul University. You saved Madison Hobley's life.

Together you spared the lives and secured the freedom of 17 men ? men who were wrongfully convicted and rotting in the condemned units of our state prisons. What you have achieved is of the highest calling. Thank You!

it's disappointing that Suman does not address these facts - or that other points that Ryan raised, like the inconsistency across rural/urban and racial lines in the application of the death penalty. And bad as it was in Illinois, one has to wonder just how much worse it is in Texas, where the governor answered to the prosecutor culture rather than the other way around.

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