Illinois Stops Executions

"It's clear that the system is broken."

This is how an aide to Illinois Gov. George Ryan described the death-penalty system in Illinois. On January 31, Ryan said he was stopping all executions in Illinois because the system is "fraught with error and has come so close to the ultimate nightmare... Until I can be sure with moral certainty that no innocent man or woman is facing a lethal injection, no one will meet that fate."

There is no time limit on Ryan's action, but it is similar to the proposals for a moratorium on capital punishment that abolitionists have been fighting for.

Ryan is a Republican who still supports the death penalty. He only called a moratorium because of growing pressure. Two weeks earlier, Steve Manning became the 13th innocent man to be released from Illinois' death row. His conviction was based mainly on the testimony of a jailhouse snitch -- which was proved false by FBI investigators.

With Manning's release, Illinois has freed more men from death row than it has executed since 1977. And there is growing talk that a 14th innocent man will be released -- Edgar Hope.

Ryan's action is the first halt on executions in any state. Over the last year, lawmakers in six other states proposed moratoriums, but none became law. Illinois' action will add momentum to the moratorium movement.

This is a victory for abolitionists. But it is only a first step. Ryan wants to create a special panel to study the death-penalty system. If he packs it with fellow Republicans, the moratorium will be short-lived. The commission should be made up of people who know the true face of this system -- like Dennis Williams and Darby Tillis, two of the 13 innocent ex-death row prisoners.