What Should Ryan Do?

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.

A positive step toward abolition
A letter appeared in the New Abolitionist a few years ago concerning an inmate who received a natural life sentence, but wished he had received the death penalty -- so that his case would be dissected, reviewed, and scrutinized like death row inmates’ cases, in the hope of having his innocence proven.

In non-death penalty cases, inmates do not have a right to an attorney after their first direct appeal. Inmates with death sentences in Illinois, on the other hand, are given representation for the entire appeals process -- representation that an overwhelming majority of us would otherwise not be able to afford. This is why it costs so much more to execute a person than to keep a person incarcerated for a natural period -- because the appeals process is so costly in terms of legal fees.

I look forward to having Governor Ryan review each death row case and possibly commute all the sentences, because it would save a lot of lives and is a positive step toward abolition. But at the same time, I’m deeply concerned with the legal ramifications that could come along with this decision.

It makes you wonder why an inmate with a natural life sentence would welcome a death sentence -- and why some death row inmates would welcome the opposite.
- Stanley Howard, #N71620, Member of the Death Row 10

What happens to legal representation?
I greatly respect and appreciate the governor’s intentions, but I’m concerned about my situation should the governor by chance commute my death sentence. At the present time, I am before the Circuit Court of Cook County. Assuming that I receive a commutation, I don’t know whether I will be able to continue receiving representation from the Capital Litigation Division or some other pro se representation. But no matter what, I will carry on my fight with the hope of turning adversity into triumph.
- Howard Wiley, #A80048

Commute is the only solution
Once again, thank you for allowing voice to the voiceless.

My feelings are clear on this subject. To commute is the only solution under the existing system. As it stands, we are dealing with a system so infected with diseased-minded people, there isn’t room for justice for even the innocent. Even the guilty shouldn’t face the ultimate punishment when the system is so full of unanswerable questions -- and we don’t have the wisdom to answer. So yes, I add my voice with all those calling for the governor to commute the sentences of all the men and women on death row.

For personal reasons, some on death row think this is a bad thing. Many understand that once they’re off death row, they will fall into a bigger pool of hell within the prison system, where thousands of men and women are trying to find lawyers and support for their cases.

Personally, I pray that God will give Governor Ryan the strength and courage to withstand the pressure that comes with such awesome amounts of power.
- Renaldo Hudson, #BO2995

Tortured into signing a confession
As a citizen of Illinois, I was kidnapped and tortured into signing a false confession for a crime I did not commit. I was then sentenced to death as a way to cover up how I was framed by law officials. I welcome Governor Ryan’s decision to commute some death row cases, if not all of them.

I think his decision really reflects his character and integrity as a human being. As John Kennedy once said, "It’s immoral for a person to abandon his own judgement."
- Grayland Johnson, #A08109, Member of the Death Row 10

Thanks, but no thanks
What do I honestly think of Ryan’s intention to review death penalty cases and possibly grant commutations? As I told Channel 7’s Carleen Mosbach, the Chicago Tribune’s Steve Mills, and CNN’s Rob Hess, with the utmost respect and deference to the governor, "Thanks but no thanks." Because I’m not interested in getting a life sentence for a murder I did not commit.

My DNA testing was granted, and Judge Tobin ordered that the evidence be turned over for testing. But the state attorney’s office is refusing to turn the evidence over or to do the testing. Instead, they say they will appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, yet they have not filed their brief in some eight months and have gotten four extensions!

I thank god for investigator Paul Ciolino, who presented my clemency petition and has written Governor Ryan. Paul knows of my innocence and is appealing to the governor to do what may not be popular, but is right -- and to grant me a pardon based on innocence and end this nightmare. The sooner this is done could never be quick enough for the hell I’ve had to endure.
- Ronald Kliner, #B77152

I’ve been locked up for 18 years
I feel that Governor Ryan needs to call a meeting with all of the Death Row 10 attorneys if he’s planning to review all of the death row cases in Illinois. Governor Ryan should also make sure that in every sentence he commutes, that person still has an attorney.

Right now, I cannot see myself just taking a life sentence. I have been locked up for 18 years.
- Leonard Kidd, #N23646, Member of the Death Row 10

No one wants to die by poisoning
There needs to be a loud, collective voice to tell the governor that the people know the truth. Without that pressure, he may just pick and choose who stays on death row and who gets a second chance at life. One thing is certain -- no one wants to die by poisoning.

I personally hope that as he reviews my case, the accurate evidence and facts are before him, so he can see with his own eyes that I am innocent. Even though his power is limited, he could commute my sentence to the minimum of 20 years and allow me to prove my innocence from the free world.
- David Harris, #B70088