February 3, 2006

Death of Illinois death penalty remembered

The Campaign to End the Death Penalty commemorated the anniversary of Illinois’s moratorium on the death penalty by headlining a panel event called “Perspectives on the Death Penalty: The Illinois Moratorium” on Wednesday, February 1, at University Church.

Former Illinois Governor George Ryan had initially entered office in favor of the death penalty but issued a moratorium six years ago that temporarily halted all executions pending serious reforms and reviews of the capital punishment system.

Four panelists spoke in opposition to capital punishment, recalling their own experiences within the system. Madison Hobley spent 13 years on death row until he was found innocent and released three years ago under the moratorium. Since his pardon, Hobley has been active in efforts to have the death penalty abolished.

“I’m going to come out here and put a face on this. I’m the guy who could have been the victim, who could have been executed,” he said.

Hobley was followed by Edwin Colfax, director of the Death Penalty Education Center at Northwestern University, who discussed the events leading up to the moratorium, the fallout from the governor’s decision, and the future of the death penalty in Illinois. He brought attention to the numerous innocent cases like Hobley’s discovered on death row, which inspired Governor Ryan’s decision. Colfax also emphasized the need for continued action by activists.

“[The moratorium is] important because it’s an official recognition that the system does not deserve our confidence,” he said.

Thomas Sullivan, co-chair of the Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment, discussed his involvement in a two-year investigation of the criminal justice system with regards to capital punishment. Sullivan and the Commission generated a list of over 80 recommended reforms to the death penalty, a third of which have been enacted. In addition, Sullivan said that many flaws in the capital-punishment system also prevail in the criminal justice system.

Marlene Martin, national director of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, concluded the event with an overview of what the gathering had achieved and called for further activism. “Change is going to happen,” she said. “It’s either going to change for the better or the worse.”