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Illinois Governor Pardons 4 Death Row Inmates - 2003-01-10

The governor of the midwest U.S. state of Illinois announced Friday that he is pardoning four men who were slated for execution for crimes they did not commit.

Illinois Governor George Ryan says he is pardoning four death row inmates who he says were wrongly prosecuted and convicted.

Governor Ryan says all four men were tortured into false confessions by police and have suffered, in his words, "a manifest injustice."

Governor Ryan has become something of a hero to international opponents of capital punishment. Although he was elected governor as a conservative Republican supporter of the death penalty, he declared a state moratorium on executions after 13 men were freed from death row because either new evidence exonerated them or there were legal flaws in their convictions. "Three years ago I was faced with some startling information," he said. "We had exonerated not one, not two, but 13 men from death row. Innocent people convicted to die for a crime they did not commit. I can't imagine it."

Three of the four men are to be released from prison. The fourth was convicted of a separate crime and will remain behind bars. The four men have served a combined total of nearly 40 years in prison.

It is also expected that Governor Ryan will commute the death sentences of many of the remaining 150 inmates on death row in Illinois to life in prison before he leaves office on Monday.

The governor appointed a special commission last year recommending an overhaul of the state's capital punishment procedures, but the state legislature has yet to act.

The controversy over the death penalty in Illinois has spurred calls for a nationwide moratorium on capital punishment. Public opinion polls indicate that while most Americans have concerns about how the death penalty is implemented, overall support for capital punishment remains strong.