Jewish World Review Nov. 22 , 2002 / 17 Kislev, 5763

Dan Abrams

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In Illinois, academics lawyers, judges hurting their pro-life cause | A letter from 650 prominent Illinois , and academics to the state's governor asking that the death sentence be commuted for all of that state's 160 death row inmates: A request to clean out death row, and I think an effort to take advantage of a lame duck government who has so far acted wisely.

Back in 2000, Illinois Governor Republican George Ryan halted all executions in the state after 13 death row inmates were found to have been wrongly convicted. Each of the other 160 inmates have been afforded a new hearing to evaluate the evidence against them. The governor has said he would consider a blanket commutation, but seems opposed to it.

Now, while the writers claim they have differing views on capital punishment, I would venture to bet the vast majority oppose the death penalty in any case. That's not a reason to single out Illinois for a retroactive change in the law.

The letter makes some important points, and I agree that the governor was right to halt the executions after finding that the system had failed, a brave move that other governors should consider if people on death row are found to be innocent in their states. But the reasoning of this letter, that the innocent can't be reliably distinguished from the guilty, could just as easily lead to the conclusion that all the people who are serving time should have their convictions overturned.

The death penalty is different. Extra care should be taken. And in Illinois, every case should be reexamined. There should be no rush to execute anyone. But the only way a letter like this can be taken at face value is if the vast majority of those who signed it don't have a fundamental problem with the death penalty as a whole. I very much doubt that's the case. If it were, I think they would have said it.

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JWR contributor Dan Abrams anchors “The Abrams Report,” Monday through Friday from 6-7 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV. He also covers legal stories for “NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw,” “Today” and “Dateline NBC.” To visit his website, click here. Comment by clicking here.


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