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2 Members of Illinois Death Row Clemency Board Being Reassigned

The men were skeptical about claims that the state's system for capital punishment is broken and that defendants did not receive fair trials.

October 20, 2002|From Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A member of the board hearing more than 140 clemency petitions for Illinois death row inmates this month has been removed from the hearings after criticizing the process and the inmates' claims.

A second outspoken member also will be transferred this week, but that was planned before the clemency reviews began.

Arvin Boddie and William Harris have expressed skepticism about the claims of defense attorneys that the state's capital punishment system is broken and that their clients did not receive fair trials.

Prisoner Review Board Chairwoman Anne Taylor said Saturday that their reassignments had nothing to do with the men's comments or a complaint about Boddie from a third board member.

She said the changes were simply attempts to keep up with the board's other duties, and that she was not pressured by Gov. George Ryan's office to make the moves.

Harris said he was told last month that he would be assigned to a Harrisburg prison near his home in southern Illinois to hear discipline and parole requests during the second week of the hearings. He doesn't believe anyone is trying to silence him, he said.

Boddie was told Friday to work at the Pontiac prison this week instead of hearing clemency cases. Taylor said Boddie was chosen for that job because he lives close to the prison.

The hearings, which began Tuesday, come more than two years after Ryan halted executions in Illinois, citing the wrongful convictions of 13 inmates. After Ryan raised the possibility of commuting every death sentence to life in prison without parole, condemned inmates flooded the review board with clemency requests.

The 14-member board, split into four panels in Chicago and Springfield, is speeding through cases to determine whether inmates should receive life sentences. Ryan, who urged the sweeping review, can accept or reject its recommendations.

Prosecutors and victims' families have been critical of the hearings, calling them a slapdash attempt to undo justified death penalty verdicts that took months or years to win.

Dennis Culloton, a spokesman for the governor, said Saturday that board member Jorge Montes complained to the governor's office about Boddie's conduct but was told that the board had to resolve the problem itself.

Culloton criticized some members for taking sides during the hearings.

"They are supposed to be somewhat impartial at this point and to make confidential recommendations after deliberating with other members," Culloton said. "I don't see how declaring how you're going to vote is consistent with how the board is supposed to operate."

Boddie said he will accept his reassignment, but he defended his comments.

"It doesn't hurt me to be silenced. It hurts those that should have the benefit of hearing what I've got to say," he said.

Boddie was particularly vocal during the hearings, at one point saying he was "sick and tired" of inmates making claims they couldn't back up with hard evidence. He also said he was "offended by the manner" in which the hearings were being conducted.

Harris, a former Democratic state representative, repeatedly indicated that he supports prosecutors and victims' families who have opposed clemency for condemned prisoners.

He also doesn't believe anyone is trying to silence him by reassigning him.

"If anyone were trying to curtail my thoughts I'd be surprised and amazed," Harris said. "That's not true."

Boddie was appointed to the board by Ryan in 2000 and Harris was appointed by Gov. James Thompson in 1990.

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