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Governor George Ryan To Commute More Inmates

Aired January 11, 2003 - 09:16   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: We are going to go now to some breaking news. We have Jeff Flock standing by in Chicago with an update on the situation in Illinois and the governor, George Ryan, who is offering some information about commuting some death sentences there.
Jeff, what you got?

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And Heidi, it now appears that the number will be high. CNN has learned this morning that those close to the battle for clemency for Illinois's death row inmates are being told by the governor's people that Governor George Ryan will today issue commutations for essentially all of the inmates on Illinois death row.

It's not exactly all. There are a few exceptions, and we've just gotten this information. Apparently there are some people that have been convicted and are not yet sentenced. They're convicted in capital crimes. They're eligible for the death penalty but not yet sentenced. And there are some who have been remanded already for a new trial. They technically would not get the commutation either, but essentially the rest would, we are being told.

And that amounts to a number of about 156. There were 160 people on Illinois death row as of yesterday. Four people pardoned yesterday, bringing it to 156. And now, we are being told that letters have been sent out to victims' families by the governor's staff informing them that essentially everyone will get their sentence commuted now to life in prison from the death sentence.

This is not any sort of release of any additional people, but simply having their sentence taken from a death sentence to life in prison without parole.

Now, this all comes, of course, on the heels of yesterday's release of four men, four men pardoned. We have perhaps the compelling pictures of them making their way out, the joyous reunions of those four men, all of them part of the so called Burge (ph) 10, that is, 10 people on death row who were -- they claim had confessions tortured out of them.

After they emerged from prison yesterday, they made reference to those still there.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very important that you all look into other guys' cases on death row and in prison population. There are more innocent people locked up. There are more innocent people locked up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there more on death row that are innocent, in your view?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are not only some more on death row that are innocent, there have been innocents that have been already been executed.


FLOCK: It's important to note that those who -- obviously the governor still, with this still on his mind, it's important to note that this is not any sort of declaration of innocence for these additional commutations. This is simply the governor saying he doesn't believe these men and women -- there are four women -- got a fair shake from the criminal justice system, and so he is commuting their sentence to life.

Now, the other side of this issue, of course, prosecutors and victims' families. I expect there will be a great hue and cry. There's already -- that's already started from the prosecutor in Cook County, Illinois. His name is Dick Divine (ph), and he is very upset with Governor Ryan.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How can you have a review of cases like this, where you're taking people and putting them out on the street, without talking to the prosecutors in that case? It is unbelievable that that didn't happen.


FLOCK: And before we get away, Heidi, Miles, I want to give you one last image that we captured yesterday of one of the inmates. His name is Leroy Orange. He got in a car outside Cook County Jail yesterday. Couldn't -- he didn't know how to put the seat belt on. It's sort of interesting to watch him there. He didn't know whether it goes behind him. This is a man who's been in prison for 19 years and has not been in an automobile.

Last night, that was his daughter you saw, one of -- well, there are two daughters in the car with him. He was home with his family for the first time in almost two decades last night.

And a lot more happening obviously today. Back to you folks.

COLLINS: All right, Jeff. Let me just ask you quickly, any word from the victims' families and whether or not they might get together in some sort of organized form to fight this or talk more, at least, about it?

FLOCK: They had been sort of holding their fire yesterday because the victims' families in the cases of the pardons yesterday, there are maybe two that had something to say about it. Most of the others didn't have anything to say, feeling that perhaps these men were wrongly convicted as well.

These today, though, these are not men that anybody is suggesting are innocent. These are people on death row. They're quite likely guilty, but the governor feels perhaps didn't get a fair sentence, that were sentenced to death improperly or didn't get good effective counsel during their trials.

And if you feel that was the case that the -- that was the reason the death sentence was taken away, if you're a victim's family member, you have to be very upset about that. And I suspect we will begin to really hear that today.

COLLINS: And as you say, we won't really know the exact number until he makes the announcement. But I remember -- I think we started at 104, then it went up to 140, and now we're at about 156, right?

FLOCK: The governor told me yesterday, as I talked to him -- and this made me think it was going to be a far smaller number, because he said, We're going back into the office after I leave the speech yesterday, and we're looking at the list again. We're going through it.

I thought if he was going to really do it in a blanket fashion, that that's either a yes or a no. I thought the fact that he was looking at individual cases meant that, you know, perhaps it was going to be a more limited number. But it now appears, at least those close to this process are being told, that the governor is going to do all of them, essentially.

COLLINS: Do they say it's been enough time, Jeff, to look at all 160 cases?

FLOCK: Well, I think you could argue that in fact he has looked very hard at it. He showed me the briefing books that he's gone through. He's had reports on the clemency hearings. There were these mass clemency hearings in Chicago. He's had the benefit of all of that testimony. Dick Divine said that he hadn't talked specifically to prosecutors, and there isn't any evidence that he spoke specifically to individual prosecutors.

But he's certainly taken a lot of time to digest a lot of this. So I don't think anyone can say this was a snap decision.

COLLINS: All right. Jeff Flock with that breaking news for us today from Chicago. Thanks, Jeff.


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