Wednesday, March 16, 2005


End Capital Punishment in Illinois

The state is just too corrupt to have it

I have always been a big supporter of capital punishment. But recent events have caused me to rethink things.

Yesterday the Chicago Tribune editorialized (registration required - see BugMeNot) in favor of a bill pending in the Illinois House which would "require that jurors determine they have no doubt about a defendant's guilt before they sentence him to death." The editorial begins:
Illinois came dangerously close to executing some innocent men. That knowledge was so frightening that the governor imposed a moratorium on capital punishment and the legislature moved to eliminate doubt about the guilt of those who face a death sentence.

Most of the reforms enacted in recent years have focused on changing the practices for investigating and prosecuting a crime.

But just how much have those practices really changed? One day earlier, the Trib ran a front page story concerning political interference in a murder investigation:
The Illinois attorney general is seeking a review of allegations that state police officers investigating a Downstate double-murder were thwarted by their supervisors because a potential suspect had made hefty political donations.
(For those who don't know, there are no limits on donations to political campaigns in Illinois and the few regulations that cover the practice are not enforced. For instance, disclosure of the donor and the ammount is required, but quite a few Illinois politicians have been embarassed when information regarding sizable "loans" they had received became public knowledge.)

The article continues:
Three high-ranking Illinois State Police officials have made sworn statements backing the allegations made by Lt. Michale Callahan, and those depositions will be among the documents brought to the attention of the governor's executive inspector general.

Callahan has filed a federal lawsuit alleging he was demoted because he doggedly pursued the investigation of a 1986 double murder in Paris, Ill., and later accused two superiors of telling him to back off.

The decision by Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan's office Monday to make Gov. Rod Blagojevich's inspector general "aware of the pleadings in the case" came just hours after the attorney general lost a bid to have Callahan's case tossed out of federal court.
Though I'm not sure, I think Illinois is unique in that nobody in state government is seriously expected to investigate allegations of political corrption. Instead, the Attorney General (who is the daughter of the Illinois House Speaker) was trying to have this particular case tossed out of court. Indeed, it was business as usual here in Illinois as the only way these type of allegations get to see the light of day is if they somehow make it into federal court.

Perhaps, as the Tribune editorial suggests, former Governer Ryan imposed a moratorium on capital punishment because the thought of executing an innocent person really did frighten him. Perhaps. But does anyone seriously doubt that he commuted the sentences of all death row inmates because his scandal plagued administration desperately needed the positive publicity along with the civic and international accolades that such a move would surely elicit? The manner in which the whole clemency process was milked for the maixmum publicity and political effect was truly revolting. It was an transparently cynical move by a Governer who, against stiff competition, was the most corrupt governor in Illinois history.

Since there isn't any way to completely seperate or eliminate politics from the judicial system, and because politics in Illinois is so thoroughly and fundamentally corrupt, this state should not have capital punishment. Period. This level of corruption is just so corrosive of public trust that the justice system is inevitably compromised. It is no accident that so many people were wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to death in this state. The disposition of every capital murder case is affected in some way by the taint of corruption, even if it is only indirectly. (For one prominent example, consider all of the cases in which the trial judge who acquitted mob hitman Harry Aleman was involved. Though it was obvious at the time what had happened, it wasn't until Operation Greylord came to fruition nearly a decade later that the rotten truth behind the acquittal was exposed. Could that judge have been exceedingly tough on some other murder defendants throughout his career because he had something to prove?)

I'm still a supporter - all be it a reluctant one - of capital punishment when it is carried out by a responsible government. But Illinois government is just too corrupt. Capital punishment shouldn't be an option here until this somehow changes.


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