Illinois Press Release


Majority concludes that Abolition of the Death Penalty May Be the Best Solution

WASHINGTON, DC — The 14-member Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment will join Republican Governor George Ryan today to release a series of 85 recommendations resulting from the nation’s most thorough review of the death penalty. The Commission’s sweeping reforms - which include sharply reducing the number of crimes eligible for the death penalty from 20 to five, limiting the use of jailhouse informants, setting standards to ensure adequate legal representation for defendants, and videotaping interrogations of murder suspects - aim to protect innocent inmates from execution and to ensure improved fairness for defendants facing capital charges.

“The Commission’s comprehensive study and courageous recommendations should provide an incentive to other states to similarly undertake a critical review,” said Richard C. Dieter, Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). “Other states should match Illinois’s willingness to place a moratorium on executions until these problems are fully addressed. While questions of innocence and fairness remain, states should not take chances.”

Today’s report from the Commission, chaired by former federal Judge Frank McGarr, former U.S. Senator Paul Simon, and former U.S. Attorney Thomas Sullivan, contains specific recommendations concerning the investigation of cases, eligibility for the death penalty, review of the prosecutorial decision to seek the death penalty, the conduct of capital trials, and judicial review of capital cases. The Commission noted that the report’s findings are critical to ensure fairness, justice and accuracy in capital punishment trials, and acknowledged that their findings could lead to costly but necessary changes in the state’s current policies. The report noted, “[I]f capital punishment is to continue to be imposed in Illinois, achieving a higher degree of confidence in the outcomes will require a significant increase in public funding at virtually every level, ranging from investigation through trial and its aftermath.”

Among the 85 recommended reforms, the Commission called for:

  • Videotaping of all interrogations of capital suspects conducted in a police facility.
  • Reducing the number of crimes eligible for a death sentence from 20 to five (cases in which the defendant has murdered two or more persons, where the victim was either a police officer or firefighter, where the victim was an officer or inmate of a correctional institution, when the murder was committed to obstruct the justice system, or when the victim was tortured in the course of the murder).
  • Forbidding capital punishment in cases where the conviction is based solely on the testimony of a single eyewitness.
  • Barring capital punishment in cases where the defendant is mentally retarded.
  • Establishing a state-wide commission — comprised of the Attorney General, three prosecutors, and a retired judge — to confirm a local state’s attorney’s decision to seek the death penalty.
  • Intensifying the scrutiny of testimony provided by in-custody informants during a pre-trial hearing to determine the reliability of the testimony before it is received in a capital trial.
  • Requiring a trial judge to concur with a jury’s determination that a death sentence is appropriate; or, if not, sentence the defendant to natural life.

In January 2000, Ryan appointed the 14-member Commission after Illinois had released 13 innocent inmates from death row in the same time that it had executed 12. Ryan asked the group, which includes “some of the best, brightest, and most honorable people in Illinois,” to closely examine the administration of the death penalty in the state. His deep concern that flaws in Illinois’s current policies would result in the execution of an innocent person also led him to declare a groundbreaking moratorium on executions.

Illinois has 173 inmates on its death row. The state has not had an execution since March 17, 1999, when Andrew Kokoraleis was executed by lethal injection. # # #