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Death penalty series features former Illinois gov

DeGroot, Tricia | Tuesday, March 1, 2005

As part of the “Life in the Balance Death Penalty Perspectives” series that began last week, former Governor George H. Ryan of Illinois addressed the Notre Dame community Monday night on “The Death Penalty: A System of Justice & Reconciliation?”Ryan began the forum by saying that capital punishment was previously something he thought about only in the abstract with regard to notorious crimes in the news.While serving as Illinois General Assistant in 1977, Ryan still believed in the death penalty’s importance in the criminal justice system, although he did not want to be the executioner.However, Ryan had a change of heart after learning about Anthony Porter, who spent 16 years on death row until having his case reevaluated and eventually found innocent and released.”It amazed me that you could come so close to the ultimate nightmare, and the system couldn’t do anything about it,” said Ryan, who couldn’t understand how an innocent man could sit on death row for 16 years.Ryan concerns grew even more after the Chicago Tribune released revealing statistics about the death penalty in Illinois. The information caused Ryan to believe the system was failing. According to the Tribune series, nearly half of the capital cases in Illinois went back for a retrial, 33 percent of the defendants were represented by lawyers who were later either disbarred or suspended and blacks were being convicted by all white juries.In January 2000, more death row inmates were exonerated than executed in Illinois and this moved Ryan to action.”I did the only thing I could do,” he said, which was to put an end to the death penalty in Illinois.He formed a commission to investigate the Illinois justice system, and after his evaluation of this thorough two-year study, Ryan decided they needed to fix the system. But after wrestling with the facts and figures, he concluded the system was, in fact, irreparable.”There was no doubt that it was arbitrary, capricious, unjust, racist and unfair to the poor,” said Ryan.