- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 14, 2003

"Sometimes, 4-year-old Jordan Evans tells his little brother, Elijah, about their mother," the 1998 Associated Press story reads. " 'Our mom's name was Debbie,' " Jordan's grandfather heard him say one day. "And she was good."

Jordan will never know his mother, who was brutally murdered the very night he was born. But thanks to Gov. George Ryan who issued blanket commutations to all 156 prisoners on death row on Saturday, just two days before leaving office the sentences of two of the predators responsible for her murder, Jacqueline Williams and Fedell Caffey, were commuted to life imprisonment.

One night in November 1995, Jordan and Elijah's pregnant mother, Debbie Evans, was brutally murdered by Williams and Caffey, who invaded her suburban Chicago apartment. The killers stabbed Miss Evans in the throat and shot her in the head. Then, as she lay dying, they tore Elijah from the womb. They stabbed Elijah's 10-year-old sister, Samantha, to death. Then, they kidnapped his 8-year-old brother, Joshua, whose corpse was found in an alley the following day. Williams and Caffey left Jordan behind; when police found him, he was stained with his mother's blood.

Some of the more doctrinaire death penalty opponents believe Mr. Ryan deserves a Nobel Prize for emptying Illinois' death row. Murder victims' families, rightly and understandably, think this is nonsense.

"George Ryan broke the system when he commuted the sentences of all convicted murder[ers]," declared Sam Evans, Debbie Evans' father and Samantha and Joshua's grandfather. "I have nothing but contempt and disgust for a man who abused the powers that the State of Illinois granted him."

It's cases like this that lead the state's new governor, Rod Blagojevich, to term the departing governor's move a "big mistake." Unfortunately, Mr. Ryan's decision appears to be irreversible. Today in Illinois, there are plenty of victims' relatives who, like the Evans family, feel they have been abused, mistreated and turned into political pawns by Mr. Ryan's decision to give blanket commutations to 156 convicted killers apparently without any serious regard for whether they committed these heinous crimes.

When the state imposed a moratorium on executions three years ago (13 individuals who had been convicted and condemned to death in Illinois were released from jail after it was determined that they were innocent), this newspaper endorsed the move. We did so hoping that there would be a serious case-by-case review of capital sentences in the state by Mr. Ryan. But such a review never took place. Instead, in October, he put families of murder victims through a new form of purgatory by staging public hearings for 142 of the murderers for whom he granted clemency hearings. Instead of carefully focusing attention on the small percentage of cases where some legitimate doubt might remain as to the guilt of the accused, Mr. Ryan allowed the proceedings to degenerate into a political circus, where nearly every death penalty case was, in effect, publicly retried.

Many speculate that Mr. Ryan is crusading against capital punishment to divert attention from the mushrooming criminal investigations that have defined his term as governor and before that, his tenure as secretary of state. Perhaps, Mr. Ryan wants to ingratiate himself with the Chicago Tribune, the state's largest newspaper, which has focused heavily on problems in the state death penalty law. If so, he's failing miserably. Yesterday, the Tribune was on the mark in denouncing Mr. Ryan as a man who leaves office "as a governor disgraced driven from office if not by his own misdeeds, then by his inattention to the surrounding corruption that has stuck to him like swamp muck." We concur. What Mr. Ryan did was reprehensible.

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