Keeping It Real

Innocent On Death Row

Stanley Howard
By: Illinois death row prisoner Stanley Howard

"Keeping it real" is a phrase I recently learned from the younger generation while I was in the Cook County Jail. I was there preparing for my hearing to try to prove that Chicago police officers literally tortured me into signing a confession, which was used to convict and sentence me to death. "Telling it like it is," "no holding back," and "telling the truth" are all variations of "Keeping it real."

Thanks to the New Abolitionist, I look forward to "Keeping it real" with all of you each issue, as I cling onto life, trapped deep in the belly of this cruel, unjust, and predatory beast called "death row."

I cannot imagine what it was like for Anthony Porter being two days away from what Illinois Gov. George Ryan called "the ultimate nightmare"--the state’s killing of an innocent man. But as an innocent man still trapped on death row, I know firsthand about the pain and suffering of facing that ultimate nightmare because I’ve lived it for the last 15 years.

I never thought that I would actually be executed, but after suffering immeasurably with many of the 12 men executed in Illinois as they tried to prepare for a date with death, I was forced to accept reality and began mentally preparing myself for a possible future date with the executioner.

On January 31, 2000, Ryan halted all executions in Illinois and declared, "Until I can be sure with a moral certainty that no innocent man or woman is facing a lethal injection, no one will meet that fate." Those words pierced my very soul and gave me hope of having my innocence proven, because I thought all of the cases were going to be thoroughly examined--which would’ve been the only way for him to be morally certain.

There have been two comprehensive studies of the Illinois death penalty, by the Chicago Tribune and Ryan’s blue ribbon commission, and they determined that the system is broken and plagued with errors. No system can be devised or constructed that would guarantee that an innocent person is never sentenced to death. With all of the evidence and facts that show that innocent people are being sentenced to death and executed (more than 100 people have been exonerated from death row, 13 in Illinois), it’s time to stop these legal lynchings.

It’s been two years since Ryan made his famous declaration, but nothing has been done to assure that more innocent people aren’t still on Illinois’ death row. We’ve had nothing but two years of talk about how to reform a system that’s too flawed to be fixed.

I’ve reviewed and studied many of Illinois’ death penalty cases and found most of them to be based on either very little--unreliable and/or circumstantial evidence. I’ve also discovered that there are many Anthony Porters (like myself) on death row--Ronald Kitchen, Madison Hobley, Aaron Patterson, Leroy Orange, Aldwin McNeal, Mario Flores, David Harris, Henry Griffin, Howard Riley and Juan Cortez. And I’m sure that there are many more.

Now the stage is set for Ryan to consider 140 filed clemency petitions before leaving office in January, and this is the last opportunity to make sure that "no innocent man or woman is facing a lethal injection." He should keep it real by helping to bring this madness to an end--by not only commuting all of Illinois’ death sentences, but also by issuing pardons to the innocent.

Please send questions and comments to: Stanley Howard, #N-71620, P.O. Box 711, Menard, IL 62259