Scott Hardie | January 13, 2003
I'd like to know what all of you think about governor George Ryan's last-minute blanket amnesty for all prisoners on death row in Illinois, two days before he leaves office. (If you didn't hear about it, here's one article.)

My thoughts are varied:

First off, I have to commend his bravery. Many politicians do last-minute acts of good will, but Ryan's act is impressive for its sheer magnitude, and for the number of people that are likely to be incensed by it. He wasn't afraid to piss people off.

Personally, I'm against the death penalty and I think it should be abolished - it is not morally defensible for the state to punish the taking of a life by taking a life; there is an inherent logical contradiction in it. That said, myself and many other opponents of the death penalty, including incoming governor Rod Blagojevich, are all quite angered by what Ryan did. Why? Because there's also an inherent logical contradiction in his act. He didn't do it because the death penalty is wrong; he did it because he believes the legal system in Illinois is improperly administering the law, and too many possibly innocent men are behind bars. So if Illinois courts are not giving the criminals due process of law, George Ryan is? As unjust as the courts can sometimes be, one man unilaterally commuting the sentences of 170 convicts at once is a far greater injustice. As the old saying goes, if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem, and Ryan doesn't realize which part he is.

I'm glad to see the outrage over it. I was especially moved by a son who had been waiting since the 1984 murder of his mother to see the convicted killer executed. After he waited nineteen years for justice and closure, Ryan has taken it away from him in a single act. And it can't be appealed in the courts; Ryan was completely within his legal rights. That's got to hurt.

This reminds me of the Clonaid controversy a few weeks ago: I'm one of the many people who want to keep cloning legal, and these Clonaid bozos are making that a lot less likely to happen through their reckless actions, even though they're on our side. Ryan has done a similar thing for making the death penalty illegal.

Anyway, that's just what I think. I'd like to hear from you, especially those of you who favor capital punishment.

Lori Lancaster | January 13, 2003
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Jackie Mason | January 13, 2003
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Anna Gregoline | January 14, 2003
I completely agree with Scott. I'm also confused as to why individual cases weren't given merit here - obviously some of these people, hopefully the majority, are guilty far beyond a reasonable doubt. Someone today made the point on metafilter (check this link for discussion) that much investigation has been underway of people wrongfully sentenced to death, but is this because it's a glamorous life and death issue? Will people care as much about wrongful convictions for life sentences?And just like murder is murder, a miscarriage of justice is a miscarriage of justice. And that is what has happened here.

Scott Hardie | January 15, 2003
I'm glad to see that while we differ on capital punishment in general, we all agree that George Ryan is really wrong. :-)

Having seen Kelly's dad go through wrongful termination as a prison guard (long story short, Ryan hired to run the DOC his incompetent nephew, who opened expensive new high-tech facilities and paid for them by laying off lifelong guards elsewhere and letting their prisoners go), I have to wonder about the welfare of the death row guards who will be out of jobs because of this blanket amnesty. Will they be switched to the regular prisons? Some of them, maybe.

I don't know why I didn't realize one of Ryan's motives earlier: He did it because it was the only way to save the innocent men on death row. There had to be some, just by the law of averages, and there was no way that Blagojevich or the courts were going to help them. Ryan saw that with the clock running out on his term, it was the only thing he could do for them. I still don't think that excuses his act, but maybe it makes more sense of it.

Anna Gregoline | January 15, 2003
Yeah, but you have to question why he did it now, at the end of his term. Sensationalism. He could have done this at any time.

Scott Hardie | March 19, 2011
Eight years after George Ryan's controversial blanket amnesty for all death-row inmates in Illinois, the state has taken the legal route to making it permanent: Pat Quinn just signed a bill ending the death penalty in Illinois, and commuted the death sentences of 15 new convicts since Ryan's act. The governor's office has been corrupt for generations, long before Blagojevich thought anything was golden, such that Ryan's act of humane compassion was widely seen as a last desperate ploy to craft a positive legacy for himself. Quinn isn't perfect, but his young administration is off to a good start, taking a moral but unpopular stand on a controversial issue. He deserves to be saluted for it.

Samir Mehta | March 20, 2011
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