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Developments: Year 2003

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2003 developments:

bullet 2003-JAN-11: IL: Governor commutes death penalties: Three years ago, Governor George Ryan (R-IL) placed a moratorium on executions in his state because of the large percentage of death-row inmates who have been proven innocent by DNA evidence. Thirteen Illinois death row inmates were found to have been wrongly convicted since capital punishment resumed in 1977. During that period, 12 other inmates were executed. This probably included at least one innocent person. On JAN-11, two days before he left office, he announced that all 157 death row inmates in the state, and 11 others awaiting transfer to death row, had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. All but three will remain in prison until they die with no possibility of parole, unless they can be proven innocent. Ryan also also issued pardons for four men that he said had been tortured by police into making false confessions.

Ryan described problems with trials, sentencing, the appeals process and the state's 'spectacular failure' to reform the system. He noted that the chances of a convicted murder who was tried in a rural area of his state being given the death penalty was five times greater than if he had been tried in an urban area. He said: "Because the Illinois death penalty system is arbitrary and capricious -- and therefore immoral -- I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death." In a letter to victims' families, he wrote "I am not prepared to take the risk that we may execute an innocent person." Reaction was swift and mixed:
bullet Cathy Drobney, whose daughter Bridget was killed in 1985, said: "Every one of the victims, he has killed them all over again."

Lawrence C. Marshall, director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University said: "Governor Ryan has taught us what leading truly looks like. This is greatness, my friends."


Peoria County State's Attorney Kevin Lyons said: "The great, great majority of these people that have petitioned for commutation...did not even contest their guilt. He's disingenuous when he says that certainty is the issue."


Madison Hobley, one of the four men released, said "It's a dream come true, finally. Thank God that this day has finally come."


Vern Fueling, whose son William was shot and killed in 1985, said: "My son is in the ground for 17 years and justice is not done. This is like a mockery."


Jo Ann Patterson, mother of Aaron Patterson -- one of the released inmates -- was overwhelmed when she was told. "I don't believe in miracles but this is a miracle."


Ollie Dodds, whose daughter, Johnnie Dodds, died in an arson fire was saddened by the governor's decision. "I don't know how he could do it. It's a hurting thing to hear him say something like that," she said, adding that she still believes Hobley is responsible. He doesn't deserve to be out there." 1


2003-JAN-13: Kenya: government plans to abolish the death penalty: The newly-elected government of Kenya plans to abolish the death penalty in the country by the middle of the year. Justice Minister Kiraitu Murungi said: "We think the fundamental human right to live should be respected, and no human being should have the authority to take the life of another," There are over 1,000 prisoners on death row in Kenya. Nobody has been executed in the country since 1984. 2


2003-FEB-10: AR: State can make inmate sane enough to execute: By a close ruling of 6 to 5, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled that prison officials can force an inmate on death row to take antipsychotic medication, in order to make him sane enough to execute. If he were allowed to avoid taking the drugs, then he would remain too ill to suffer the death penalty. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that the execution of the insane was barred by the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Judge Roger L. Wollman of the Court of Appeals wrote, in part: "[Charles] Singleton presents the court with a choice between involuntary medication followed by an execution and no medication followed by psychosis and imprisonment." He noted that "Eligibility for execution is the only unwanted consequence of the medication." and that the courts did not have to consider the ultimate result of giving the prisoner medication. Judge Gerald W. Heaney issued a dissenting opinion saying: "I believe that to execute a man who is severely deranged without treatment, and arguably incompetent when treated, is the pinnacle of what Justice Marshall called 'the barbarity of exacting mindless vengeance.' " 3

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  1. "Illinois Governor's Blanket Pardon Spares Lives of 167 Condemned Inmates," Associated Press, 2003-JAN-11, at:
  2. "New government eyes abolition of death penalty," The Toronto Star, Toronto ON, 2003-JAN-14.
  3. Adam Liptak, "State Can Make Inmate Sane Enough to Execute, Court Rules," New York Times, 2003-FEB-11, at:

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Copyright 2003 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last updated 2003-FEB-14
Author: B.A. Robinson

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