Changes Along Death Row

Execution gurney in lethal injection death chamber at Holman Correctional Facility, Atmore, Alabama. 2002/10/7 AP

The Illinois Death Penalty Commission, created two years ago when Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions, has agreed to recommend dozens of changes to the state's capital punishment system.

The 14-member panel at one point voted to abolish capital punishment in the state, several commission members told the Chicago Tribune for its Friday editions.

"We took the governor at his word when he said, 'I want you to review this process and say how it can be fair,'" Cook County Public Defender Rita Fry said. "We came up with ways how it can be fairer. ... But that doesn't mean it can actually be fair."

The governor declared a moratorium after Illinois saw 13 people freed from death row amid new evidence of innocence or improper prosecution. The state has executed 12 people since reinstating the death penalty in 1977.

A draft report from the panel says executions should not resume if the panel's reforms are not enacted, the Chicago Sun-Times reported, citing an anonymous source familiar with the commission's work.

But at least one panel member expressed doubts that the final report will include a recommendation to abolish the death penalty.

"I do not expect it will contain anything about abolition. I just don't see it as our role," Frank McGarr, a retired federal judge and one of three panel chairmen, told the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights.

Commission members refused to discuss specific reforms that they were considering recommending. In November, the independent Illinois Death Penalty Education Project recommended 12 proposals that would require the videotaping of confessions, separating the state crime lab from the state police and studying whether the death penalty is unfairly applied to minorities. It also said that anyone convicted based on the testimony of a single eyewitness should be ineligible for capital punishment.

The commission's final report will be sent to the governor.

"Once I get the report, I won't be able to walk out and say, 'I got it, and here's what we're going to do,"' Ryan said. "I'm going to have to study it and look at it and ask some questions and do a little research of my own."

While some death penalty reforms have stalled in the Illinois General Assembly, the state Supreme Court has set minimum standards for death penalty lawyers and in March will start to screen lawyers for admission to a new Capital Litigation Trial Bar.


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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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