Illinois Governor's Commuting of Death Sentences Is Hailed

Praise from Chicago Archdiocese, Council of Europe, and Mexican President

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CHICAGO, JAN. 13, 2003 ( The Archdiocese of Chicago hailed Illinois Governor George Ryan’s decision to grant to commute the death sentences of all condemned inmates in the state.

It also urged the incoming governor to continue the moratorium.

“The granting of clemency by Governor Ryan is consistent with Catholic principles in opposition to the death penalty,” said a statement on the archdiocesan Web site.

Ryan, calling the state’s death penalty system “arbitrary and capricious, and therefore immoral,” commuted the death sentences of 167 inmates, including four women, over the weekend. It marked the broadest attack on the death penalty in the United States in decades.

Ryan’s decision came two days before he leaves office. He had placed a moratorium on the death penalty in 2000 after 13 death row inmates were exonerated.

The archdiocese’s statement said: “The death of the murderer cannot bring back the one who has been killed, nor does revenge help to heal the hole in the heart of the grieving loved ones. We pray that Governor Ryan’s granting of clemency will lead to healing.”

It continued: “The Catholic Church opposes capital punishment in all Illinois cases, and we urge Governor-elect Blagojevich to continue the moratorium.”

“The Holy Father and the teaching of the Catholic Church are sympathetic to the pain, loss and suffering of murder victim families,” it said, but then added: “The Holy Father has stated, ‘The dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself without denying criminals the chance to reform.'”

Meanwhile, the head of Europe’s premier human rights group praised the decision to commute the death sentences.

“I congratulate George Ryan on his courage and his conviction,” said Walter Schwimmer, the secretary-general of the Council of Europe, the Associated Press reported. “On making this decision, he proves a shared commitment and belief with the Council of Europe, that the death penalty has no place in a civilized society.”

AP also reported that Mexican President Vicente Fox’s office said the leader called Governor Ryan to thank him for commuting the death sentences of the condemned inmates, including three Mexicans.

The Chicago Tribune said that Ryan responded to critics, whose ranks include Governor-elect Rod Blagojevich, who called the decision a mistake.

“Prosecutors in Illinois have the ultimate commutation power, a power that is exercised every day,” Ryan said. “They decide who will be subject to the death penalty, who will get a plea deal or even who may get a complete pass on prosecution. By what objective standards do they make these decisions? We do not know, they are not public.”

The death penalty was meted out differently, Ryan said, depending on where people lived in Illinois, who their prosecutor was, who their defense lawyer was, how poor they were and what race they were, the Tribune said.

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