Two years after Illinois Governor George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions, all eyes are on Illinois once again. In April, Ryan’s blue-ribbon commission on capital punishment released its long-awaited report, igniting a national debate over whether the death penalty can be fixed.
In its more than 200 pages, the report documents everything that’s wrong with the death penalty in Illinois at every stage of the process -- from corrupt police officers and unreliable testimony to inadequate lawyers and an insufficient appeals process.
In one of the most blatant political frame-ups in recent memory, a Fulton County jury sent Imam Jamil Al-Amin to jail for life without parole in March, after only two days of deliberation.
Al-Amin was convicted of murdering Deputy Ricky Kinchen and wounding Deputy Aldranon English in March 2000. They were shot while trying to serve a traffic warrant to the Imam (Muslim cleric) at his store. Three days later, Al-Amin was taken into custody, where he was held for almost two years before the trial.
On April 6, the Oakland chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty held a rally at San Quentin State Prison to build support for a moratorium on executions in California. Around 35 people picketed, chanted, gathered signatures, and passed out anti-death penalty literature in front of the prison gates.
The Campaign event coincided with Amnesty International’s Death Penalty Awareness Week, and activists from Death Penalty Focus, Amnesty International, and the University of California-Berkeley chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union turned out to show their support.
The federal government is seeking the death penalty against Zacharias Moussaoui, who is accused of conspiring with the September 11 attackers. In the face of a horrible tragedy, the federal government is using Moussaoui’s case to justify the death penalty.
"I want to know why I’m still going to court at all."
That’s what Jeannine Scott said at a recent Live from Death Row event in Austin, Texas. Jeannine was talking about the case against her husband, Michael Scott, who is facing trial for murder -- even though DNA evidence taken from the crime scene doesn’t match his DNA or any of his co-defendants’.
Supreme Court Could Bar Execution Of Mentally Retarded
By: Marlene Martin
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to come out with its decision in June on whether the execution of the mentally retarded violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
In taking up this issue, the justices are reconsidering a shameful 1989 decision in which they upheld the practice of executing the mentally retarded by a 5-4 vote. Back then, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in the majority opinion that there was no "national consensus" against this practice.
This page has been reserved in recent issues for profiles of the cases of The Death Row 10 -- a group of men who were beaten and tortured by former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and his detectives and sent to death row in Illinois.
The New Abolitionist's regular feature highlighting each member of the Death Row 10 will return in our next issue.
In the summer of 1998, the Death Row 10 decided to become a group and asked the Campaign to End the Death Penalty to help them organize.
CALIFORNIA by Stefanie Faucher
California abolitionists will be taking the Capitol by storm on May 1, when activists will present Governor Gray Davis with 75,000 signatures on petitions demanding a moratorium in our state. The petitions have been gathered as part of an extensive statewide effort to put pressure on local legislators to recognize that more than 70 percent of all Californians now favor a moratorium on executions.
A Death Row Lawyer Analyzes The Illinois Commission Report
Charles Hoffman is a defense attorney in Chicago with numerous clients on Illinois death row, and an activist who sits on the board of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. In April, he spoke at a meeting organized by the Campaign to End the Death Penalty about the report issued by Governor George Ryan’s commission to study the Illinois death penalty. Here, we excerpt his remarks.
Since the Illinois moratorium was declared just more than two years ago, we have witnessed a sea change in public opinion about the death penalty in the United States. With the release of the Illinois commission’s report on capital punishment in April, growing numbers are calling for the abolition of the death penalty, and the issue of the death penalty is once again in the national spotlight.
Here, Alice Kim has collected excerpts from editorials published in newspapers around the country that make the case for abolition.
Wesley Baker’s Case Shows The Injustices Of The System
By: Mike Stark
Wesley Eugene Baker was scheduled to die in the state of Maryland during the week of May 12 as we were producing the New Abolitionist.
This case illustrates the racist and arbitrary nature of Maryland’s death row. Baker is a poor Black man accused of killing a white woman, Jane Tyson, in affluent, mostly white Baltimore County in 1991.
Seventeen prisoners who were exonerated and freed from prison were honored at the Harvard Law School at a two-day conference on wrongful convictions in April. Diverse panels discussed the procedural problems of misidentification, false confessions, jailhouse snitches, ineffective assistance of counsel, and prosecutors’ failure to disclose evidence.
"He deserves an apology from us, that’s for sure."
That was how Rick Romley, the district attorney for Maricopa County, Arizona, reacted to Ray Krone’s release from prison earlier this month. Krone was exonerated after being incarcerated for 10 years -- three of them on death row -- for a crime he did not commit.
Illinois Death Row Prisoners Discuss Governor’s Plan For Reviews
Earlier this year, Illinois Governor George Ryan said that he would spend his last year in office reviewing the cases of all death row prisoners. He told reporters that he might commute the sentences of some, or even all, of those on death row.
But this raises questions. Should we be satisfied with commutations? What about the struggle for abolition of the death penalty? If Ryan commutes death sentences, will prisoners with claims of innocence be left with no help?
We asked Illinois death row prisoners what they thought.