Illinois Suspends Death Penalty

A big-state governor today put a lock on the death chamber until further notice. Illinois will suspend executions until a state commission investigates why innocent people wound up on death row.

The flaws in the system were dramatized last year in the case of Anthony Porter. But, as CBS News Correspondent Cynthia Bowers reports, he's not the only one.

Anthony Porter's first taste of freedom after 15 years on death row for a crime he did not commit was a vivid reminder that the American justice system can and does make mistakes. And today, the governor of Illinois admitted in his state the system seems to be broken. "I now favor a moratorium because I have grave concerns about our state's shameful record of convicting innocent people and putting them on death row," said Governor George Ryan.

Since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, Illinois has exonerated more people on death row than it has executed.

"If the state of Illinois had its way, I would be dead today," says Darby Tillis, a one-time death row inmate. So would 12 others. But Illinois isn't the only state that has almost made a fatal mistake.

Florida has freed 18 condemned men and woman. Texas and Oklahoma 7 each, Georgia 6. Nationwide, 86 people have walked free.

"It's a national problem. I think that Illinois is getting so much attention because of the effort of journalists, college students and other people outside the system who have brought these cases to public attention." says Northwestern University professor David Protess. He supervised a team of volunteer investigators and student sleuths whose efforts freed Anthony Porter. But he wonders: If 86 mistakes were caught, how many others have gone unnoticed?

"Human beings are fallible and we have to keep this in mind when we impose society's ultimate punishment," Protess says.

Despite Governor Ryan's temporary order to stop executions in Illinois, prosecutors say they will continue to seek the death penalty, even though for the time being capital crime won't mean capital punishment.