With 48 hours left in his term, Illinois Governor George Ryan made a monumental and vital announcement.
On Jan. 10, the outgoing governor of Illinois pardoned four wrongly-accused men; the next day and then commuted the the state’s 167 death row inmates’ sentences.
Ryan, a Republican and former death penalty supporter, made the right decision based on evidence that the system is “arbitrary and capricious.”
This unprecedented act of grace came after a three-year study of the Illinois death penalty system.
Ryan’s study revealed that 33 of the people on death row had been represented by lawyers who were later disbarred or disciplined by the bar, and that decisions regarding capital punishment are much too often determined by social class and ethnicity.
The three-year study is conclusive evidence that the capital punishment procedure in Illinois is fatally flawed and should stand as an example for other state governors to follow.
Ryan made the announcement speech at Northwestern University because it was journalism students from the university who helped free some of the inmates from death row years before. Any system that relies on college students to find injustice is deserving of scrutiny with human lives hanging in the balance.
And lest readers think Ryan can’t relate to the victims’ families, his former neighbor and friend was kidnapped and buried alive in his hometown of Kankakee, and Ryan’s commutation order saved the life of the man who killed him.
Many opponents of the decision called for an individual investigation into each of the 167 death row cases, proving or disproving malpractice or foul play.
These investigations would be extremely costly and time-consuming. With such details, lives could be saved or lost based on a shred of evidence.
Instead, Ryan acted correctly. He gave 167 condemned inmates a second chance, based on major falacies in the state’s system.
Other states, including Texas, should investigate their killing machines in the same way and act accordingly.