Re "After Blanket Clemency, Illinois Struggles to Assess Its Effects," Jan. 13: In all the coverage of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan's historic actions on the death penalty, nearly every report has failed to emphasize that the 167 death sentences were commuted to a life sentence without possibility of parole. Death row was "emptied," yes -- but maximum security was not. With LWOP (life without parole), society is quietly and effectively protected from convicted killers, with no politician having the power to pick who lives and who dies. A life sentence without the possibility of parole means what it says. In California, where it has been in use since 1977, more than 2,800 murderers have been sentenced to LWOP. Only one has been released -- he was found innocent.
Death Penalty Focus
Ryan released death row inmates because of tortured confessions. Last month, those convicted of the Central Park jogger assault and rape case were released. They also confessed to police for the very crimes attributed to someone else through recent DNA tests. Police conduct to limit crime turns them into the criminals -- criminals who are rarely punished and most often are promoted. It took courage and conscience for Ryan to act. Now, an investigation must follow as to which police officers are responsible and if any criminal and civil liability can be pursued. And we in California must ask ourselves: Are there any innocent people on our death row?
There may be something wrong with the penal system in Illinois, but there is also something wrong when a scandalized politician can effect a change as sweeping, broad and all-encompassing as did Ryan moments before heading into the sunset. This is the state's decision to make, not his.
Michael Ramirez actually makes a strong point with his cartoon (Commentary, Jan. 14), and the choice of tombstones with newspapers blowing into them is extremely effective. For once, he relinquished his position as Bush's head cheerleader.
Ramirez's cartoon is woefully incomplete. Right next to the tombstones of victims wondering how to get their sentences commuted should be others inscribed with "Wrongfully Executed Prisoner" pondering exactly the same thing.