GOP on the death penalty
February 6, 2002
The major candidates for governor recently met with the Tribune editorial board in informal debates. Today, and in the coming weeks, edited transcripts of those debates will appear on the Commentary page. Here is what Republicans Jim Ryan, Corinne Wood and Patrick O'Malley said on capital punishment.
Chicago Tribune: Do you believe it's time to get rid of the moratorium on executions?
Patrick O'Malley: I think the moratorium on the death penalty, which is how it's widely expressed, is really a moratorium on victims' rights. We have taken steps in the Illinois General Assembly, and the (Illinois) Supreme Court has taken appropriate steps, to reform the administration of criminal justice. In particular, the General Assembly has provided a fund so people on Death Row can get sound legal advice and representation. We require automatic DNA testing in cases where we can and we require evidence in these capital (punishment) cases be retained forever. The Supreme Court has said to prosecutors around the state that it is no longer your job to get notches in your gun. Your job is simply to do justice.
Chicago Tribune: But the governor's commission that was appointed to study death-penalty reforms has yet to come out with its recommendations.
O'Malley: And I know that you have editorialized, like, where have you been? When are you going to do this? How long must we wait? The moratorium has no legal authority whatsoever and to allow the continuance (of the moratorium) ignores the rights of victims, turns the criminal justice system upside down and literally frustrates prosecutors, judges and juries who we ask to make some of the toughest decisions we could possibly ask them to make. The moratorium . . . has not done one thing to free one person from Death Row.
Not one thing.
Chicago Tribune: When will you know that we have reformed the system to the point where we can resume executions?
Corinne Wood: I'm on record saying I support the moratorium because I do believe our death-penalty system in Illinois is broken. I'm also on record as supporting the death penalty and I think there can be a few cases in which it could be warranted. But at this point in time, most agree that our death-penalty system here in Illinois is broken. I would want at least a minimum of the following done. (I) want to curb overzealous prosecutors who are more interested in getting convictions rather than justice, and that might even include penalties. I want us to look at things like coerced confessions (and) jailhouse informants, especially in death-penalty cases. I think we need to have increased training and standards set on defense counsel. We're dealing with someone's life here, and more and more you hear of inadequate counsel. Perhaps even for the judiciary there should be a separate set of standards when dealing with death-penalty cases. I think we should have the opportunity to require scientific evidence to be used, like DNA. I would want to make sure if I were governor that racial bias would not be an issue for someone being prosecuted.
Jim Ryan: I support capital punishment and I also support the moratorium.
Ultimately, it was the right thing to do to take a step back and look at how we impose capital punishment in this state. I supported the capital litigation trust fund to make sure there was more money available for defense lawyers, indigent defendants (and) prosecutors. In fact, we (attorney's general office) helped draft the legislation. Before the moratorium was ever announced I imposed an additional layer of review in appealed cases involving capital punishment. So before I sought a date from the Supreme Court for execution we sent (out) letters and invited defense counsel involved in the case and state's attorneys involved (in the case) to come into the office if defense lawyers felt there was any issue that had not been fully litigated, that may have fallen through the cracks. We've done a lot in that regard. I would not resume executions until I was convinced that we had done everything possible to make sure only guilty people are subjected to capital punishment. I do think we should--and my guess is the moratorium panel will address this-- find ways to narrow the scope of capital punishment and (find ways to) raise the bar of certainty in those cases.
Chicago Tribune: Would you sign legislation to videotape interrogations of murder suspects?
Ryan: I would want to see the legislation but I would be inclined to say yes. I encouraged police departments to tape record interrogations and confessions. I do think we should amend the eavesdropping statue to allow surreptitious taping.
Chicago Tribune: What went wrong in the prosecution of the Jeanine Nicarico case? Do you think you made mistakes in that case?
Ryan: I did what I thought was right. I followed the law, based on the totality of the evidence we had at the time. The evidence changed after I left office. I think 10 months after I left office, the DNA evidence changed. And then (DuPage County Sheriff's Lt. James) Montesano's testimony created concerns. Now I will say, like a lot of other people as you get older, I would hope we are educated by our experiences.
Chicago Tribune: Are you troubled that the problems that have been uncovered in capital cases are perhaps symptomatic of problems in cases where life is not on the line, but life imprisonment is?
Ryan: I would definitely be committed to try to find ways to improve the accuracy and fairness of the entire criminal justice system.
Wood: I think first and foremost you have to deal with the capital punishment system because if a mistake is made there it cannot be reversed.
Second, I also support a rewrite of the criminal code. It's a patchwork. It has been amended so many times (in the last couple of decades). I think the biggest obstacle in death-penalty cases is how we remove, I would say, that alleged racial bias. Apparently African-American and minority communities don't feel as if the criminal justice (system) is fair to them. We want to do everything possible to help restore the faith that our system of justice is for everyone.
O'Malley: There have been significant defects that have come to the surface and it has clearly been demonstrated that the problems are focused in the areas of administration. The whole idea of state's attorneys advertising when they run for re-election that their conviction rate is 80-some odd percent, is something that I think a lot of state's attorneys, I hope, are rethinking, especially in light of what the Supreme Court has done by saying, " Hey, your job is to do justice, your job is not to just be convicting people for the sake of it. " All three of us are lawyers--we understand that our profession is largely ruled by . . . in fact, completely ruled by what the Illinois Supreme Court does. I am very pleased that the court has stepped up to do the things that we should have done . . . to restore some confidence in how we're dealing with capital cases.