The state of Illinois will set a precedent today by starting a nine-day series of clemency hearings for 140 death row inmates. This marathon of trials is the largest set of clemency hearings ever held in the United States. For Illinois, a state that has seen tremendous debate over the death penalty in recent years, the hearings are a tremendous step for justice.
Iif the sole purpose of this event is to root out any other possible mistakes in the criminal justice system, then nine days of arguments won’t really be effective when so many are taking place. It is admirable that Illinois is holding these hearings, but it needs to give these inmates more than just a few days to prove whether they will live or die.
Illinois Governor George Ryan has been at the center of the death penalty debate since January 2000 when he ordered a moratorium on executions. The move was extremely controversial because Illinois has one of the largest death row populations in the nation. The move came after two inmates, Anthony Porter and Rolando Cruz, were found innocent of their respective murder charges after several years on death row. Porter narrowly escaped lethal injection, his conviction being overturned 39 hours before he was scheduled to die.
A CNN report speculated that if even one more inmate is found innocent as a result of the hearings, Ryan may grant blanket clemency and that may be the best thing to do.
If four trials with extensive DNA evidence, eyewitness testimony placing him away from the scene of the crime and proven false testimony weren’t enough to acquit Cruz without a judge stepping in, then what will nine days of constant litigation do? What kind of a chance does that give a judge to sort it all out? If Gov. Ryan and Illinois really want to uphold justice, they should give these inmates more time to present the biggest cases of their lives.