Justice Denied

The commutation of more than 160 death row inmates by Illinois Governor George Ryan is a travesty of justice.

If there are inequities in the way the accused are tried, convicted and sentenced, they can be addressed by the legislators and the courts.

But Ryan went far beyond repair. He granted reprieves to everyone on death row, including many whose guilt was never in doubt. Among them, a couple who murdered a pregnant woman and two of her children and cut the baby -- who survived -- from her womb.

The governor wants us to believe that innocent people are being executed, but the facts indicate otherwise.

Death penalty opponents cite a Columbia University Law School study that claims a 68 percent error rate in capital crime convictions. But most of the cases it cites were overturned on technicalities by courts that have a demonstrated bias against capital punishment.

An investigation of that study by University of Utah Law Professor Paul Cassell found not a single incident in which a wrongful conviction lead to a wrongful death. In other words, the system, while flawed, can still work.

Governor Ryan faces criminal indictment for activities while he held a previous statewide office. Some believe he commuted the death sentences to curry favor with potential jurors and the media. But his unilateral decision can only add to the anger and frustration many feel about a criminal justice system that seems to care more about murderers than the rights of victims and their families.

And that's Column One for this week.

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