Ryan Pardons Four
Men say they were tortured by Chicago police
Tribune staff reports; January 10, 2003, 1:39 PM CST
Gov. George Ryan today pardoned four condemned prisoners who long maintained Chicago police tortured them to confess to murders they did not commit.
Ryan ordered three of the inmates — Aaron Patterson, Madison Hobley and Leroy Orange — released from prison immediately. The fourth, Stanley Howard, will be moved off Death Row but will remain behind bars to complete a sentence for another crime.
The governor made his announcement during an address today at the DePaul University College of Law at 25 E. Jackson Blvd. in the Loop.
“What I can’t understand is why the courts can’t find a way to implement justice,” Ryan told a classroom of law students. “So here we have four more men, who were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to die by the state for crimes the courts should have seen they did not commit.”
“They are perfect examples of what is so terribly broken about our system,” Ryan said. “They have repeatedly cried out for justice, and their cries have fallen on deaf ears.”
The four prisoners pardoned today were among more than 60 suspects — including nearly a dozen on Death Row — who have claimed former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge or his detectives at the Burnside Area Violent Crimes headquarters on the South Side tortured them to confess.
Three of the cases — those of Patterson, Hobley and Howard — were the subject of Tribune investigations in 1998 and in the November 1999 series, “The Failure of the Death Penalty in Illinois.”
Noting he was taking the action on his last full business day in office, the governor said, “As you know, I’ve been learning about Illinois’ capital punishment system, and it’s been a very arduous journey.”
Ryan’s successor, Democrat Rod Blagojevich, is to be inaugurated Monday.
When he first took office four years ago, Ryan said, “I have to admit, the death penalty was nowhere on the radar screen. I had no intention of getting involved in such a difficult topic. It was nowhere on my mind … Little did I know what was ahead.”
Ryan cited a 1999 Chicago Tribune investigation into abuses in the state’s criminal justice system that led to innocent people being sentenced to die.
“Three years ago, I was faced with some startling information we had exonerated not one, not two, but 13 men from Death Row,” the governor said, one more than all those executed in Illinois since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977.
Fifty percent of Death Row convictions in recent years had been remanded, Ryan said. One-third of those sentenced to die had been represented at trial by attorneys later disbarred or who had their law licenses suspended. Thirty-five African American defendants were convicted to die by all-white juries. A disproportionate number, nearly two-thirds of those on Death Row, were African Americans.
“I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t think you need to be one to be appalled by those statistics,” Ryan said. “It was a shameful scorecard, truly shameful … Innocent people were convicted to die for a crime they didn’t commit. We nearly killed innocent people. We nearly injected them with a cocktail of deadly poisons so they could die in front of witnesses in the state’s death chamber.”
Faced with such information, Ryan said that in January 2000 he did the only thing he believed he could do — impose a moratorium on all executions in the state. He said he also convened a panel of experts to recommend reforms to the way capital punishment was meted out in Illinois.
“What has been most troubling is, this is most clearly not limited to our capital cases. They have only received the most attention,” Ryan said.
Noting at least 33 inmates convicted of murder and not sentenced to death have been found innocent and released from prison since 1977, Ryan said he also was pardoning Gary Dotson, the first person in the nation exonerated by DNA testing.
Dotson was convicted in 1979 of rape and kidnapping based solely on the testimony of a woman who later recanted her testimony. He was released from prison by Gov. James Thompson, but was never pardoned.
“He has struggled to rebuild his life ever since he spent those eight years in prison for a crime he never committed,” Ryan said. “Now we have the DNA evidence that proves Gary was innocent. Now we are going to clear Gary’s name once and for all.”
The governor said letters were being prepared as he spoke, to be sent in overnight mail to families of crime victims informing them of his decisions in the cases of other Death Row inmates who filed clemency petitions, seeking to have their sentences commuted to life in prison without parole. He said he would announce his decision Saturday after the families had received the letters.
On Saturday, Ryan has a 1 p.m. speech at Northwestern University where he is expected to announce his decision on whether to commute the death sentences of every inmate on Death Row.
Just before the governor spoke today, members of Amnesty International USA marched in a silent vigil on the sidewalk outside DePaul’s downtown campus, calling on Ryan to commute the death sentences of all those on Death Row. At about noon, they filed inside the building to watch the governor’s speech on television.
Others watching in the classroom as Ryan spoke included family members of the prisoners, as well as Rev. Jesse Jackson and former Death Row inmate Rolando Cruz, who the governor pardoned last month.
Cruz was twice convicted of the 1983 murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico of Naperville, twice had his conviction reversed by the Illinois Supreme Court, and acquitted in his third trial in 1995 after a DuPage County sheriff’s lieutenant recanted critical testimony.
WGN-Ch. 9 and the Associated Press contributed to this story.
||Truth in Justice