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The Nation

Illinois Panel Proposes Broad Reforms in Capital Punishment

April 16, 2002|HENRY WEINSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Former Sen. Simon emphasized that although the report found "no statistical evidence" of racial discrimination in how the death penalty is applied in Illinois, "in reality the death penalty is reserved for people who do not have enough money to defend themselves."

Many proposals require action by the Legislature and are likely to face a chilly reception in the Republican-dominated state Senate. Democrats have a majority in Illinois' lower house but success is not assured there either.

Nine measures are pending in the Illinois General Assembly related to death penalty reform. These include a bill that requires videotaping of interrogations in capital cases, one of the key recommendations in the Ryan commission report.

A spokesman for Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), the speaker of the Assembly, said he was not optimistic about the prospect for reform. "We have introduced a bill on videotaping confessions the last two or three sessions and it has gotten nowhere because prosecutors and police have argued that such a regulation would tie their hands in terms of effectively investigating capital crimes," said Steve Brown.

Cook County State's Atty. Richard A. Devine in Chicago said his office had not had time to thoroughly review the report. He said that "prosecutors, among others, have a concern that some of the proposals . . . appear to be grounded in a fundamental distrust of police officers."

"We must be careful that suggested procedures do not simply help suspects by making it impossible for police to conduct an effective investigation into our most heinous crimes," Devine said. About 53% of the inmates on Illinois' death row are from Cook County.

There are 160 people on death row in Illinois. The commission indicated that since none of the proposed reforms would apply to them that perhaps some consideration should be given to reducing their sentences.

This year, Ryan suggested in a speech that he may commute a number of those sentences to life without the possibility of parole before he leaves office. On Monday, he said he had made no decision on that issue or any of the commission's other proposals.

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