Governor George H. Ryan
During a single term as governor of Illinois from 1999 to 2003, Republican George H. Ryan made a name for himself by advocating for the reform of his state’s troubled capital punishment system. As a state legislator, he voted to bring the death penalty back to Illinois in 1977 after the Supreme Court’s Gregg v. Georgia decision. In 2000, after major problems in the system came to his attention, Governor Ryan issued a moratorium on all executions in Illinois and established a commission to evaluate Illinois’ entire capital punishment system. In 2003, after the commission issued its exhaustive study that documented serious flaws, he ordered special one-hour clemency hearings for every person on death row. At the end of his term as governor, he pardoned 4 death row inmates with strong claims of innocence, and commuted to life in prison the sentences of the remaining 167 inmates awaiting execution in Illinois. This was the first time any governor of any state in the union had issued a “blanket clemency�? of this magnitude, and it underscored Governor Ryan’s fear that the flawed administration of Illinois’ capital punishment laws might some day lead to the execution of an innocent man or woman. A one-time pharmacist from the small town of Kankakee, Governor Ryan retired from politics after the end of his gubernatorial term in 2003. He was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 and 2004.
The Center on Wrongful Convictions
One of the driving forces behind Governor Ryan's decision was this organization which is dedicated to identifying and rectifying wrongful convictions and other serious miscarriages of justice in Illinois and around the country. The organization consists of lawyers, professors, and Northwestern Law Students dedicated to identifying and rectifying wrongful cases of criminal justice.
The Center's website also includes information about each of the Illinois' innocence cases, including Anthony Porter whose exoneration influenced Governor Ryan's decision to place a moratorium on the death penalty. Download the brief that was co-written by one of Northwestern's journalism students, Shawn Armbrust, who is featured in the film.
The Death Penalty Information Center's Section on Illinois' Commission on Capital Punishment
The Death Penalty Information Center has assembled press materials and Web links to provide easy access to information regarding the work of the Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment, a blue-ribbon panel that has recently completed the nation's most comprehensive state review of the death penalty. The Commission's findings and recommendations captured the attention of lawmakers and legal experts throughout the nation who are watching closely to track the impact of this review beyond Illinois. The Commission's recommendations aim to address problems Illinois Governor George Ryan identified including potential safeguards to prevent the possible conviction and execution of innocent inmates.
The Deadline DVD features more of Governor Ryan, including additional excerpts from his interview with the directors and his clemency speech, as well as a “Ryan and the Death Penalty�? timeline.
Read more about Illinois in our state by state map.