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Illinois May Suspend Death Penalty

January 30, 2000

CHICAGO (AP) _ Illinois has seen more of its death sentences overturned than it has carried out, so Gov. George Ryan plans to block executions altogether pending a special investigation, the Chicago Tribune reported Sunday.

The decision, to be announced Monday, would make Illinois the first state in the country to stop executions while it reviews its death penalty procedures, the newspaper reported.

``You have a system right now ... that’s fraught with error and has innumerable opportunities for innocent people to be executed,″ Ryan spokesman Dennis Culloton told the Tribune. The governor ``is determined not to make that mistake.″

Ryan still supports the death penalty, but Illinois has ``a problem that’s too big for case-by-case review,″ Culloton said. ``It’s clear the system is broken.″

Ryan will create a special panel to study the state’s capital punishment system in general and determine what happened in the 13 cases in which men were wrongly convicted since Illinois reinstated the death penalty in 1977.

One of those inmates, Anthony Porter, spent 15 years on death row and once came within two days of being executed before a college journalism class proved his innocence. Porter was released from prison last year.

The governor ``still can’t answer the question: How do you prevent another Anthony Porter?″ Culloton said.

Just within the past month, Cook County prosecutors dropped charges against a former Chicago police officer who had been convicted and sentenced to die based on the word of a jailhouse informant.

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Moses Harrison II applauded Ryan’s decision.

``I’m very pleased to hear that the governor is doing this,″ said Harrison, the sole member of the high court who has said the state’s death penalty should be held unconstitutional.

Of the 38 death penalty states, only Nebraska has taken a similar step. But after the state legislature passed a moratorium last year, the governor vetoed it.

The Illinois House approved a bill to impose a moratorium last year but it failed in the Republican-controlled Senate.

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