- The Washington Times - Monday, April 15, 2002

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) Two years after Illinois Gov. George Ryan halted executions, saying he couldn't trust the state's criminal justice system, a panel he named to examine the process was ready to recommend changes aimed at keeping innocent people off death row.
Abolishing capital punishment isn't among the proposals to be announced today, but the commission's report will include about 70 other recommendations for judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and police, co-chairman Frank McGarr said.
"Many states and national leaders will look to see the recommendations that Illinois comes up with as a model for what else needs to be done in other states," said Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C. The center researches capital punishment but takes no position on it.
Mr. Ryan imposed the moratorium on capital punishment in January 2000 after several cases in which men were freed from death row because new evidence exonerated them or because of flaws in the way they were convicted. Since the 1977 reinstatement of the death penalty in Illinois, 13 men have been freed while 12 have been executed.
"This is an issue that's larger than Illinois. Illinois has had 13 cases, but most of these cases are outside of Illinois, and there are problems in those places as well," Mr. McGarr said.
Mr. McGarr, a retired federal judge, is not raising expectations about what will come of the commission's recommendations.
"The legislature will have to decide whether they're going to adopt our improvements," he said.
State Rep. Art Turner, sponsor of a bill that would substitute life in prison without parole for the death penalty, said neither legislative reticence nor Mr. Ryan's January departure from the governor's office will stand in the way of reform. "The death penalty issue the momentum has been moving, and it's starting to pick up," he said.

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