Published January 11, 2003
Excerpts from the prepared text of Gov. George Ryan's speech Saturday commuting the sentences of every Illinois death row inmate:
"Our capital system is haunted by the demon of error -- error in determining guilt, and error in determining who among the guilty deserves to die. Because of all these reasons today I am commuting the sentences of all death row inmates."
"The legislature couldn't reform it. Lawmakers won't repeal it. But I will not stand for it."
"As I prepare to leave office, I had to ask myself whether I could really live with the prospect of knowing that I had the opportunity to act, but that I had failed to do so because I might be criticized."
"Because our three-year study has found only more questions about the fairness of the sentencing; because of the spectacular failure to reform the system; because we have seen justice delayed for countless death row inmates with potentially meritorious claims; because the Illinois death penalty system is arbitrary and capricious -- and therefore immoral -- I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death."
"This is a blanket commutation. I realize it will draw ridicule, scorn and anger from many who oppose this decision."
"There have been many nights where my staff and I have been deprived of sleep in order to conduct our exhaustive review of the system. But I can tell you this: I will sleep well knowing I made the right decision."
"The death penalty in Illinois is not imposed fairly or uniformly because of the absence of standards for the 102 Illinois State Attorneys, who must decide whether to request the death sentence. Should geography be a factor in determining who gets the death sentence?"
"Seventeen exonerated death row inmates is nothing short of catastrophic failure."
"I have had to consider not only the horrible nature of the crimes that put men on death row in the first place, the terrible suffering of the surviving family members of the victims, the despair of the family members of the inmates, but I have also had to watch in frustration as members of the Illinois General Assembly failed to pass even one substantive death penalty reform. Not one. They couldn't even agree on one."
"Our own study showed that juries were more likely to sentence to death if the victim were white than if the victim were black -- three-and-a-half times more likely, to be exact."
"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."
"Moreover, if you look at the cases, as I have done -- both individually and collectively -- a killing with the same circumstances might get 40 years in one county and death in another county."
"I started with this issue concerned about innocence. But once I studied, once I pondered what has become of our justice system, I came to care above all about fairness."
"I never intended to be an activist on this issue."