January 11, 2003
Since Illinois reinstated capital punishment in 1977, 18 men sentenced to death have been exonerated. Several exonerations occurred early in Gov. George Ryan’s term, including one involving an inmate who came within 48 hours of execution for a murder he did not commit.
Declaring the system “broken,” Ryan issued a moratorium on the death penalty in early 2000 and convened a commission to study the issue. Its report, released in April 2002, called for a sweeping overhaul of the system. A narrow majority favored abolition.
Just days before leaving office, Ryan granted four outright pardons and commuted the sentences of the state’s 167 remaining death row inmates (12 of whom are pictured above) to life without parole. Ryan was convicted in 2006 on corruption charges tied to his tenure as secretary of state and is currently serving a 6½-year term in federal prison.