Following up on the end of that last post, it occurs to me that some of my out-of-state readers may not be familiar with Illinois’s disgraceful history of police brutality, prosecutorial misconduct, and wrongful imprisonment. Here is the relatively happy ending to the sadly typical story of Ronald Kitchen, recently freed from jail after spending twenty-one years there (he is 43), including thirteen on death row. To summarize: Chicago police detectives tortured Kitchen until he confessed, and then Illinois prosecutors used that confession and other, remarkably flimsy evidence to convict him.
Two genuinely heroic groups at Northwestern University work to oppose these kinds of injustices: the Medill Innocence Project and the Center on Wrongful Convictions. From the Center’s website: “Of 314 men and women sentenced to death under the current Illinois death penalty law, which was enacted in 1977, 20 have now been exonerated and released—an error rate of more than six percent.” Former Governor George Ryan (currently in prison for corruption) famously declared a moratorium on the death penalty in 2000 and commuted the sentences of all current death row inmates (including Ronald Kitchen) to life imprisonment on his way out of office in 2003.
That moratorium is still in place—with good reason, obviously—but the death penalty has not been abolished and the state still seeks it in certain cases. I’m at a loss to explain what argument you could make in favor of keeping it or lifting the moratorium in the face of that +6% error rate, much less when you factor in its inevitable rise due to the Capital Litigation Trust Fund, which assists public defenders in mounting a proper defense in death penalty cases, being bankrupt.