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Outgoing Governor Commutes Death Sentences in U.S. State - 2003-01-15


In the U.S. state of Illinois, there has been an unprecedented and controversial development for inmates sentenced to the death penalty. The former Governor George Ryan spared the lives of all of the state’s 156 death row inmates prior to leaving office Monday. This followed Mr. Ryan’s pardon of four other death row inmates. Brian Purchia has the story of life and death in Illinois.

The news from the former Governor George Ryan angered Dawn Pueschel.

DAWN PUESCHEL
“It's as if we are just hearing that my brother and his wife were murdered again all over.”

Dean and Jo Ellen Pueschel were beaten to death twenty years ago. Their killers, Jerry and Reginald Mahaffey, were sentenced to death.

DAWN PUESCHEL
“There is no mistake, these people committed these murders.”

GOVERNOR GEORGE RYAN
“This is blanket commutation.”

Former Governor Ryan cleared Illinois' death row, commuting the sentences of the Mahaffey brothers and more than 150 other convicted killers. Most will now serve life in prison without parole.

GOVERNOR GEORGE RYAN
“Our capital punishment system is haunted by the demon of errors, errors in determining guilt, error in determining who among the guilty deserves to die.”

Many prosecutors like Richard Devine were upset by the decision.

RICHARD DEVINE
“Yes the system is broken, and the governor began to break it today.”

Prior to the mass commutation, the former governor pardoned four death row inmates. Mr. Ryan said there was evidence police tortured them into making false confessions. Aaron Patterson was set free after 17 years in prison for the murder of a husband and wife.

AARON PATTERSON
“Miracles, you know. Miracles do happen.”

Former Governor Ryan at one time favored the death penalty, but called a moratorium on executions three years ago after a study found 13 Illinois death row inmates were innocent of the charges against them. Mr. Ryan said he is prepared for criticism.

GOVERNOR GEORGE RYAN
“But I realize that my decision will draw ridicule and scorn and anger from many who oppose this decision.”

Including the family of Dean and Jo Ellen Pueschel.

DEAN PUESCHEL
“The word justice doesn't mean anything anymore.”

JO ELLEN PUESCHEL
“My prayers are with all the family members that this has happened to. Because people are going to be devastated all over again.”

Former Governor Ryan, left office Monday, but in his wake he has re-opened debate on the death penalty.

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