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August 23, 2002

Governor Ryan Uses Amendatory Veto Powers on Terrorism Bill, Urges Reforms of System Before Expanding Death Penalty

SPRINGFIELD -- Governor George H. Ryan used his amendatory veto powers on a controversial anti-terrorism bill that includes a new capital offense for convicted terrorists. The Governor kept the original provisions of the terrorism bill intact but insisted the General Assembly also include comprehensive reforms of the state's flawed capital punishment system before adding yet another crime to the death penalty eligibility factors.

In January of 2000, the Governor declared that he would halt executions after 13 death row inmates were exonerated by the courts and found to have been wrongfully convicted. By comparison, since capital punishment was reinstated in Illinois in 1977 only 12 inmates have been executed.

In his amendatory veto message, the Governor noted that the General Assembly was able to pass House Bill 2058 expanding the death penalty six weeks after his Commission on Capital Punishment recommended 85 reforms and two weeks after he introduced a bill to codify many of the commission's recommendations. While House and Senate committees have held hearings this summer on the death penalty system, he said reforms of the fatally flawed system should take greater priority than expanding eligibility for capital punishment.

"While I applaud both the House and Senate for convening these committees to look into the issue of death penalty reform, I am troubled by the relative ease with which a death penalty expansion bill was able to pass before any real legislative attention had been given to carrying out much needed reforms. Given our State’s capital punishment track record, there can be little doubt that reform should take precedence over expanding death penalty eligibility in what most believe to be a flawed system," Governor Ryan said in his veto message.

"Since the reinstatement of the death penalty on June 27, 1977, the number of innocent men exonerated from death row has outnumbered the number of those who have been executed. There may still be innocent men on death row--sentenced to die by a badly flawed system. If that system is allowed to continue unchanged and unreformed, then there undoubtedly will be more innocent men and women who find themselves awaiting their death at the hands of the people of the state of Illinois for a crime they did not commit."

This bill marks not only the second time the General Assembly has sought to expand capital punishment to include acts of terrorism but the third time overall that lawmakers have sent capital punishment expansion bills to his desk. The Governor's amendatory veto does not strip HB 2058 of the added capital punishment factor but rather adds about 20 of his Commission's reforms to the system.

"Instead of sending me comprehensive death penalty reform legislation I have received only death penalty expansion legislation," Gov. Ryan wrote. "Therefore, if the General Assembly wants to expand the death penalty with House Bill 2058, then justice demands that the General Assembly be prepared to adopt needed reforms to make sure the death penalty is considered and imposed in a fair and just manner."

Earlier this year, the Governor used his amendatory veto powers to make suggestions to the earlier version of the anti-terrorism bill. The Governor then expressed concerns over expansive eavesdropping and wiretapping provisions in addition to expanding the capital punishment system.

The Governor noted then and now that the current capital punishment system has "numerous provisions that cover just about every conceivable murder circumstance that would be committed by a terrorist."

Among the Governor's additions to the bill are:

  • The Illinois Supreme Court shall conduct a proportionality review of each death penalty case to ensure that the death penalty was not excessive or disproportionate to sentences given to others committing similar offenses.

  • Allowing capital defendants to make a statement on their own behalf that is not subject to cross-examination.

  • Repealing of the sunset clause of the Capital Crimes Litigation Act so that funding for capital cases as provided by the act will continue indefinitely.

  • Public Defenders shall be available to serve as the attorney for in-custody.

  • Interrogations of poor defendants suspected of first-degree murder.

  • The death penalty may not be imposed solely on the basis of one eyewitness, one accomplice or one "jailhouse snitch."

  • Defendants would be allowed to file a motion to compare DNA evidence at trial with the State Police DNA database.

  • Barring imposing the death sentence on mentally retarded defendants.

The Governor said lawmakers accepting the Governor's amendatory veto changes would "begin restoring public confidence in our system of justice."


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