Thursday, January 16, 2003

Good piece on former Govenor Ryan in The Nation. Congress Republicans could take a lesson in "compassionate conservatism" from him.

The significance of this moment rests not just with the commutations but in Ryan's journey. This conservative Republican pharmacist-turned-pol has recounted how the exoneration of mentally retarded death-row inmate Anthony Porter--falsely accused of a double murder and saved only by the investigative efforts of college students--began the nagging doubt in his mind. Less obvious, perhaps, is the role prosecutors and pro-capital punishment legislators played in his decision. After the Porter case, Ryan named a blue-ribbon commission, which proposed reforms in Illinois capital laws, and Ryan went to his legislature three times asking for a narrowing of the death penalty. But the legislators were unwilling to modify a system under which seventeen death-row defendants were falsely convicted and more than thirty were represented by disbarred or suspended lawyers.

Just how much of this is tied up in Ryan's own legal and political troubles is a matter for conjecture. Though Ryan is surrounded by a corrupt administration and faces possible indictment himself in a license-peddling scandal, anyone who speaks with him finds little evidence that his stand on the death penalty is anything but sincere. In October, a wrenching series of individual commutation hearings brought forth the details of death-row defendants' crimes and new facts about their convictions, and Ryan--long a supporter of victims' rights--publicly wavered. It's hard to think of a more conscientious use of a governor's power to pardon and commute as a court of last resort, when the customary checks and balances have utterly failed.

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