URBANA, Ill. — Gov. George Ryan on Thursday pardoned three men wrongfully convicted of murder, including Rolando Cruz, whose case has served as a symbol of flaws in the death penalty system.
Ryan made the announcement as he spoke before the University of Illinois College of Law concerning the state's death penalty system. Ryan has been considering commuting the sentences of about 140 men on death row. The men he pardoned Thursday already had been released.
The pardons, which were widely expected, came a day after federal prosecutors released papers alleging that Ryan had personal knowledge of wrongdoing by aides in the secretary of state's office he ran before being elected governor in 1998.
Ryan has the power to grant clemency to all 160 inmates facing execution in Illinois, but he has said recently that a blanket clemency is unlikely.
The Republican governor, who did not seek reelection, leaves office Jan. 13.
His latest actions come after months of pleas from lawyers and others who are convinced that Illinois' death penalty system is hopelessly flawed, and outcries from the families of victims of some of the most terrible crimes in the state's history.
Ryan gained national prominence when he halted executions nearly three years ago, calling the state's death penalty system "fraught with error" after the courts found that 13 men on death row had been wrongly convicted since the state resumed capital punishment in 1977.
He pushed for a sweeping overhaul of the way capital cases are handled. Ryan later raised the possibility that he would commute the sentences of everyone facing death. That led most of the condemned inmates to file formal petitions for clemency.
Cruz served 11 years in prison, including seven on death row, for the 1983 rape and murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico. He was acquitted at a third trial, and DNA tests cleared him.
Also pardoned was Gary Gauger, wrongly convicted of killing his parents; and Steven Linscott, who was convicted of murdering a young woman in suburban Chicago on the strength of a dream he related to police. Authorities considered it a confession. Linscott also was exonerated by DNA evidence.