Pursuing justice for convicts, Ryan denies justice to victims
Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan was right to have misgivings about the way the death penalty was being enforced in Illinois, but wrong to issue blanket clemency for 156 persons on his way out the door.
He took a one-sided view of justice, concerning himself solely with whether an innocent person might be executed and in so doing spared dozens of people who deserved the death penalty from paying the ultimate price for their crimes.
Ryan was correct to act to free anyone who had demonstrably been convicted on manufactured evidence and to spare the lives of those whose trials were tainted. He was correct three years ago when he declared a moratorium on executions because serious questions had been raised about the fairness of the justice system in his state.
He was wrong, however, in becoming so emotionally involved in the issue that he could not bring himself to say, "These prisoners will go free, these prisoners will have their death sentences commuted to life in prison and the fate of these prisoners will have to be decided by my successor." He apparently forgot that his successor was chosen, just as he was, by the voters of the state and should be trusted to live by the law.
Righteous and arrogant
There was an arrogance to what Ryan did. He acted as if he were the only man who could be trusted to be just.
But where is the justice for the mother whose child was murdered, for the family that lost a breadwinner, for the community that lost a valuable citizen?
Ryan and those who oppose the death penalty in even the most heinous of cases claim that justice will be served because the convicted murderers will spend the rest of their lives in prison. That's punishment, but it is not necessarily justice under the laws of the state. Illinois has a death penalty, and justice demands that that penalty be carried out -- absent clear proof that a specific convicted killer was treated unfairly.
Instead, Ryan threw up his hands, dolled out clemency all around and became an instant hero to avowed opponents of the death penalty.
But just as those detectives in Chicago who tortured murder suspects to get confessions did violence to the concept of justice, Ryan abused it by saying, in effect, that no police officers, no prosecutors, no judges, no juries and no other governor could be trusted to do the right thing.