Thursday, November 21, 2002
Justice? The Times doesn't know what it is: An editorial in today's New York Times calls on Illinois Gov. George Ryan to commute the sentences of everyone on death row to life in prison (apparently with the possibility of parole).
[G]ov. George Ryan of Illinois, whose state has a bad record of sentencing innocent people to death, declared a moratorium on executions a few years back. Now, in his final months in office, he is considering commuting the sentences of everyone on death row. His willingness to do so may have been tested last month, by televised hearings that underscored the horror of the crimes for which these inmates were sentenced. But despite the bad publicity, Governor Ryan should do the right thing, and commute all the sentences to life in prison.
Did you catch that? The "horror of the crimes" is "bad publicity" for the Times' anti-death penalty crusade. Yes, the truth of what actually happened is so inconvenient.
It's a little tough to find accounts of the crimes these people are convicted of committing. Most of the information focuses on the hearings process that Gov. Ryan has set in motion. There is little information on the crimes. But I did manage to find a couple in the wonderful Google cache -- including information on the case of Paris Sims, who raped and killed Jo Ana Bollinger.
Bollinger's husband Jacob, also 17 at the time of the attack, was the key witness.
He said Sims entered their mobile home, held a knife to his throat, beat him in the head and raped Jo Ana Bollinger, then twisted a pair of long johns around Jacob Bollinger's throat until he lost consciousness. The baby was unhurt.
There's also the case of serial killer Lorenzo Fayne. Fayne was found guilty of murdering five children.
These are heinous crimes -- and those guilty of them deserve death. Otherwise, we devalue the lives of those who were murdered.
The Times bases the argument for a blanket commutation on the fact that several people on death row have been exonerated over the past several years.
Illinois has been at the center of the death penalty debate since it was revealed, through DNA evidence, that 13 of the people sent to its death row since capital punishment was restored in 1977 had been wrongly convicted. That's more than the 12 people who were actually executed. The co-chairman of a blue-ribbon commission appointed to study the system noted that it was unlikely that any doctor "could get it wrong over 50 percent of the time and still stay in business." In one case, a convicted murderer who had spent 16 years on death row was exonerated just two days before his scheduled execution.
The Times' numbers argument (13 exonerated vs. 12 executed) is a lame one. We can fix that by simply carrying out the executions of more of them.
I don't mean to demean the Times' argument. There are obviously problems with the way some of the trials occurred. But I will note that there is no evidence that any of the people who were executed were actually innocent of the crime for which they were convicted.
Gov. Ryan's clemency hearings were a good idea. If there is any doubt that the inmate might be wrongly convicted due to prosecutorial misconduct, new evidence, or conflicting testimony that has been uncovered since the conviction, then he should commute those sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
But the Times' push for a blanket commutation -- regardless of the weight of the evidence against the convict -- is an insult to the victims and their families.