- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

SPRINGFIELD, Ill., Jan. 24 (UPI) — A Chicago legislator has proposed abolishing the state's death penalty statute, saying the public perception has changed.

The action comes on the heels of former Gov. George Ryan's decision Jan. 11 to commute the sentences of all the state's death row inmates. Ryan said the capital punishment process was so broken and arbitrary, he had no other choice.

"The time is now," Rep. Art Turner, deputy majority leader, told Friday's St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I think the public perception (about the death penalty) has changed."

Turner is co-sponsoring the bill with Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, another Chicago Democrat, and the second-highest ranking member of the Illinois House. Currie said she doesn't know whether the measure can garner enough votes to pass but indicated she believes public opinion has shifted in recent years.

Illinois executed 12 condemned prisoners in the 1990s but freed 13 death row inmates after DNA and other evidence exonerated them. In addition, Ryan pardoned four other inmates before issuing his blanket commutations.

Ryan, a Republican, imposed a moratorium on executions three years ago and newly installed Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich has yet to rescind it although he has said capital punishment has a place in the justice system.

After the moratorium was imposed, Ryan appointed a blue-ribbon commission to study the death penalty and make recommendations. The Legislature, however, has declined to take any action on the 85 recommendations, which include reducing the number of circumstances where capital punishment is an option and guaranteeing adequate representation in capital cases. It was unclear whether House Speaker Mike Madigan would allow Turner's bill to reach the floor.

Ryan praised Turner's action.

"They can't continue with the system they have not," Ryan told the Post-Dispatch. "If we haven't already, we're going to execute an innocent prisoner."

However, an ABC/Washington Post poll indicates most Americans are opposed to blanket commutations with 64 percent supporting the death penalty in principle when no other punishment is proposed. That percentage falls to 49 percent when life in prison is offered as an option.

Seventy-four percent of men said they support the death penalty, compared with 55 percent of women. Among racial groups, 68 percent of whites and 40 percent of blacks support capital punishment.

Only 39 percent of the 1,133 adults polled Jan. 16-20 said they support blanket commutations.





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