Saturday, April 27, 2002


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 is ready to recommend changes aimed at keeping innocent people off death row.

Abolishing capital punishment isn't among the proposals.

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 there were 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.
Ryan's panel might get a cooler reception in the Illinois General Assembly than it would elsewhere in the nation. Ryan is a lame-duck governor weakened by a four-year federal corruption probe that brought indictments earlier this month against his campaign committee and two former top aides. He has not been accused of any wrongdoing, but decided not to seek a second term.

Illinois became the first state in the nation to stop executing its prisoners, prompting other states to review their procedures. Nationwide, about 3,700 people await death for crimes committed in the 38 states that allow the death penalty. There have been 769 people put to death in the United States since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

There were 66 executions in the United States last year compared to 2,468 in China and 139 in Iran.