I can think of nothing that means more to me than life .... all life ..... from the plants, trees and animals of earth to mankind. Life is sacred, and the freedom to enjoy that life is precious and should never be taken for granted.
And yet, most of my adult life I have been in favor of the death penalty for those who took a human life. Hell, I've even been known to say a person should be hung or shot for what they did to an animal ..... and sad as it is, I actually meant it! I do not like cruelty and abuse, and will not tolerate it.
In all honesty, I must confess that I still favor the death penalty, but with much more reservation than ever before.
It seems to me that many things have changed in recent years. Then again, perhaps they haven't changed at all. Maybe I just woke up and noticed them. That's always a possibility!
Perhaps the things that I have witnessed locally have gone a long way toward causing my reservations about the death penalty. Perhaps it's been a "national" thing, I'm really not sure.
I have watched in shocked horror as Innocence Projects across our nation have uncovered some of the most horrendous miscarriages of justice the world has ever seen.
Although I continue to have a deep, abiding love for law and order, truth and justice .... the respect for those individuals whose jobs it is to carry out these valuable services has been greatly shaken. In fact, it has been destroyed.
While the courts of our nation play with the lives of all our people and bring contempt upon their own heads and uncertainty about the future, there is one thing that I am certain of. I'm certain that the death of even one innocent person is entirely too much. And there is something else that I am reasonably sure of. I believe there should be a nation wide uniformity in sentencing. At this time we don't even have state wide. A crime committed in one county can bring an entirely different sentence than the exact crime committed only one or two counties away.
We need changes made within the "system" and consistency in our laws and the enforcement of those laws. Fairness, equality and justice are but empty words. Our people have lost faith in the system because of the unfairness.
The system needs people of integrity, high caliber and incorruptible character; people with common sense as well as education; people with knowledge, wisdom and a sense of fairness.
Too many lack everything except education, and after years and years of no standards, no punishments for negligence and dereliction of duty, misuse of power and office, we have come to the brink of disaster.
A few years ago I sat in on a murder trail because I was interested in learning the truth. I was naive enough back then to actually think that when you promised to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, that's exactly what was told. Then I realized if the judge didn't block the truth then the prosecution or the defense would. It was more like a three ring circus than a trial with bits and pieces of truth mingled in with speculation, supposition and outright fabrication.
It was one of the biggest disappointments of my life because it utterly destroyed my respect for many of the people involved. And when a news paper man came to me and asked why I was there I told him because I wanted to hear the case so I could make up my own mind about it. He asked if I realized that the trial might take several weeks, and if I was prepared to buy my own gasoline and spend my own money to be there. I replied that I was, and then I asked him why he was there. He replied that he was there because he got paid to be there.
No one ever paid me to take a stand on the side of integrity and honesty. No one ever had to.
I continue to believe this nation has government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Unless I'm right, there is no hope for tomorrow.
Illinois governor George Ryan did something on January 10th, 2003 that I will never forget. He courageously freed four inmates on death row in the Illinois prison system.
When I first turned the tv channel to the station on which he was speaking, I didn't know who he was and I didn't know what he was about to do. But I listened, and as I did, I realized he was talking about setting some prisoners free. At first I thought it had to do with overcrowding, and I was against such a move. But then I realized it had nothing to do with prison space but had everything to do with the fact that DNA evidence had revealed that the men involved were wrongly imprisoned ..... they were innocent men!
I've never been imprisoned, never committed a crime in my life and have always been on the side of law enforcement, but right is right and wrong is wrong. If a police officer (or anyone else) lies, coerces, intimidates, threatens, bribes or harms anyone in an effort to gain a confession or a conviction in court, then I say that cop (or other person) should not only be removed from their profession but should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And any prosecuting attorney who refused to prosecute such a person should also be removed from office immediately.
I don't live in Illinois but I wish we had a man of George Ryan's integrity here in Ohio.
I don't actually know David Protess of the Illinois Innocence Project either, but I did speak to him once over the phone. I asked him to help someone here in Ohio. He said he didn't work Ohio cases, but urged me to not give up. I haven't ..... but neither has there been any changes.
Since book number 25 in the Pure Coincidence series is titled Justice For All, I felt it only appropriate that this story clip should come from that book as far as the web site is concerned. I have not decided yet, whether I will make it part of the printed book or not.
I was so impressed with Gov. Ryan's speech that I wanted to place the entire thing here on my web site. Following the speech is a copy of an article that appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, that I thought was of exceptional quality:
Bonnie M. Wells
Ryan's Speech On The Death Penalty:
"The legislature couldn't reform it. Lawmakers won't repeal it. But I will not stand for it."
''As I prepare to leave office, I had to ask myself whether I could really live with the prospect of knowing that I had the opportunity to act, but that I had failed to do so because I might be criticized.''
''Because our three-year study has found only more questions about the fairness of the sentencing; because of the spectacular failure to reform the system; because we have seen justice delayed for countless Death Row inmates with potentially meritorious claims; because the Illinois death penalty system is arbitrary and capricious--and therefore immoral--I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.''
''This is a blanket commutation. I realize it will draw ridicule, scorn and anger from many who oppose this decision.''
''There have been many nights where my staff and I have been deprived of sleep in order to conduct our exhaustive review of the system. But I can tell you this: I will sleep well knowing I made the right decision.''
''Seventeen exonerated Death Row inmates is nothing short of catastrophic failure.''
''I have had to consider not only the horrible nature of the crimes that put men on Death Row in the first place, the terrible suffering of the surviving family members of the victims, the despair of the family members of the inmates, but I have also had to watch in frustration as members of the Illinois General Assembly failed to pass even one substantive death penalty reform. Not one. They couldn't even agree on one.''
"Some inmates on Death Row don't want a sentence of life without parole. ... It is a stark and dreary existence. They can think about their crimes. Life without parole has even, at times, been described by prosecutors as a fate worse than death."
"President Lincoln often talked of binding up wounds as he sought to preserve the Union. 'We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection."
"Our own study showed that juries were more likely to sentence to death if the victim were white than if the victim were black--3-1/2 times more likely, to be exact.''
"I started with this issue concerned about innocence. But once I studied, once I pondered what has become of our justice system, I came to care above all about fairness.''
"I never intended to be an activist on this issue.''
"The Most Reverend Desmond Tutu wrote to me this week stating that 'to take a life when a life has been lost is revenge, it is not justice.' He says justice allows for mercy, clemency and compassion. These virtues are not weakness."
"In fact the most glaring weakness is that no matter how efficient and fair the death penalty may seem in theory, in actual practice it is primarily inflicted upon the weak, the poor, the ignorant and against racial minorities.' That was a quote from former California Governor Pat Brown. He wrote that in his book--Public Justice, Private Mercy. He wrote that nearly 50 years ago--nothing has changed in nearly 50 years."
"Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart has said that the imposition of the death penalty on defendants in this country is as freakish and arbitrary as who gets hit by a bolt of lightning."
And Governor Ryan's closing words will stick with me for the rest of my life. He said .....
"Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied."
Chicago Sun-Times Article
By Abdon M. Pallasch, Annie Sweeney
and Carlos Sadovi (Staff Reporters)
Gov. Ryan ignited national and even international debate Saturday by taking all 167 prisoners off Illinois' Death Row, blowing away the modern record of eight commutations set by former Ohio Gov. Richard Celeste.
Ryan gave 160 men and four women life sentences without the possibility of parole. Three men received reduced sentences that could allow them to be released shortly. A day earlier, Ryan gave outright pardons to four other men on Death Row, bringing to 171 the total spared potential lethal injections.
"What happened today is absolutely monumental," said Nancy Bothne, Midwest regional director for Amnesty International. "It is significant for every political leader in every one of those 38 states that still has the death penalty. This will be a defining moment in the abolition of the death penalty in the United States."
Ryan, a Republican, supported the death penalty until the number of innocent men freed from Death Row convinced him the system was broken. Because state legislators refused to pass even one reform to the system, he had no choice but the radical surgery he performed Saturday, he said.
"Like it or not, the decision I make about our criminal justice system is felt not only here, but the world over,"
Ryan told 500 cheering law students, anti-death penalty activists and men freed from Death Row at Northwestern University's Law School.
Ryan leaves office Monday.
"I thought, I could not leave without getting something done," he said.
Ryan said his decision would outrage many people, including his wife, because one of the men whose sentence he commuted killed a neighbor of the Ryans.
"My wife is even angry and disappointed with me, just like many of the victims will be," Ryan said. "They have a right, I would guess, to feel betrayed."
That's because Ryan told them he would not grant a "blanket commutation," then changed his mind.
"My obligations are far broader than their desires or their wishes," Ryan said.
Ryan's successor, Gov.-elect Rod Blagojevich, did not like the going-away present.
"A blanket clemency in my view is a big mistake," Blagojevich said. "There is no one-size-fits-all approach to those cases. We're talking about murderers on Death Row, and I just think this decision to do blanket clemency is wrong."
Ryan posed for pictures Saturday with former "MASH" television show actor Mike Farrell--just one of many celebrities around the world who have lobbied Ryan to commute the death sentences. Calls and letters have come in from South African leaders Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu; from the Vatican, the European Union and the governments of Poland and Mexico.
"For a guy like me to get a call from Nelson Mandela, that's pretty impressive," Ryan said.
Famed DNA lawyer Barry Scheck, who defended O.J. Simpson, was on hand at Northwestern on Saturday, also predicting national repercussions. Ryan said he looked at every case and tried to separate the guilty from the innocent; the cases in which the system worked properly from those in which the system did not. He couldn't do it. "Hell, I know some of those people are guilty," Ryan said. "But you can't pick and choose. That's what drove us to mass commutations. How many more cases of wrongful convictions have to occur before we can all agree that this system in Illinois is broken?"
Prosecutors around the state slammed Ryan on Saturday, saying he should let the courts handle the cases. Some Ryan critics say the federal probe of corruption in Ryan's offices motivated him to stage this weekend's attention-grabbing events.
"That had nothing to do with this at all," said Ryan, who has not been charged with any crimes.
Responding to Cook County State's Attorney Dick Devine's blasting of Ryan's actions as "outrageous and unconscionable," Ryan said, "If you really want to know what's outrageous and unconscionable . . . it's 17 exonerated Death Row inmates. It is nothing short of catastrophic failure."
Lawyers for the prisoners poured out of the rally at Northwestern, lighting up their cell phones to tell their clients the news. While all but three will get life in prison, Ryan noted some think that is "a fate worse than death."
Three of the four men Ryan pardoned Friday got a hero's welcome Saturday.
"I think he saved a whole lot of people today," said Madison Hobley, pardoned of setting a fire that killed seven people. Hobley was one of those who said former Chicago police Lt. Jon Burge tortured him to extract a false confession. "I just really saw justice yesterday after 16 years on the system."
Also there Saturday was Gary Gauger, whose conviction for killing his parents was overturned and whom Ryan pardoned earlier.
"This is not a time for celebration," Gauger said. "This is a time for people to start looking at all the other cases in prison. Ten years ago, Jon Burge was fired for torture. But they haven't done anything yet. The courts are not handling it."
Ryan agreed. The death penalty as administered in Illinois is uneven, with the same crimes getting years in prison in one county and the death penalty in another. African Americans are sentenced to death more often, Ryan said.
Plenty of retired politicians attended Ryan's event, but no current officeholders other than Ryan.
"It is easier and more comfortable for politicians to be tough on crime and support the death penalty," Ryan said. "It wins votes. But when it comes to admitting we have a problem, most run for cover.
Prosecutors across the state continue to deny that our death penalty system is broken. . . .
Will we actually have to execute an innocent person before the tragedy that is our capitol punishment system in Illinois is really understood?"
Contributing: Becky Beaupre, Scott Fornek
And I Have To Ask ....
If there are this many "mistakes" in the state of Illinois, how many must there be nation wide? How many people sit on death rows across this nation that are not guilty of the crimes they were convicted of?
How many hundreds or even thousands of people sit in prisons across this nation and serve long terms ..... sometimes lifetime terms ..... when in fact they are innocent?
I would think the number would be far higher for these individuals than it would for death row inmates. Possibly because a life sentence is so much easier for a prosecuting attorney to get and for a jury to live with.
It benefits neither victim nor society if the wrong person is convicted of a crime. In fact, there is only one beneficiary to such disgrace, and that is the judicial system itself. Crime increases and the courts get more government money to handle the case loads: law enforcement gets more money to hire more cops or buy more equipment; prosecuting attorney's can show an increase in their work load so the government hands them more money to hire more assistant prosecutors, more investigators, etc; and even the taxpayer fed defense attorneys make out because they get to handle more cases too. Meanwhile, the American tax payer is getting devoured from both ends. He is turned into a victim ....either by the criminal or the system he is forced to support.
It's a vicious cycle .... and it's one that needs to end.
I am not an attorney .... in fact I'm not much of anything in this old world, but I have some ideas that I believe would work quite well if implemented.
First of all ......EVERY interrogation in EVERY police department across this nation would be done with 3 tape recorders and 3 video cameras rolling! The three copies would be divided as follows .... One for the prosecuting attorney, one for the cops, and one for the defense attorney! And no, the equipment would not be the property of the police department or the prosecuting attorney's office. It would be supplied by independent contractors.
There would be national standards set and any state, county or city that refused to abide by the standards would not get one thin dime of federal money until they complied. Believe me, they'd comply real quick because that's what they are after.
Those standards would be adhered to regardless of who the criminal was or how much money or position he or she had.
The governors of each state could meet with federal attorneys to determine the "crime and punishment" standards. Those who refused to cooperate would get no further federal money for their state, simple as that.
The morale and character of our people and the integrity of our nation is on the line here. It's time to stand up and stop the abuse of power.
It's either Justice For All .... or justice for none!
Bonnie M. Wells