Fatal error

Notoriously, a substantial majority of Americans supports the death penalty. One indication of this sobering fact is that no presidential candidate from either major party is willing to express even tentative doubts about capital punishment, lest he be accused of being "soft on crime." At no time was this more apparent than during the 1992 presidential race between George Bush and Bill Clinton, when then-Governor Clinton made a point of interrupting his campaign for the White House to return to Arkansas to preside over the execution of a retarded man. Since 1977, when the Supreme Court permitted the reinstatement of the death penalty, few elected officials at any level have been willing to risk the wrath of the public by calling the gruesome practice into question.

Until now. Last month Illinois Governor George Ryan, a moderate Republican who in fact favors the death penalty, halted executions in his state. Ryan felt morally compelled to act when confronted with the astonishing number of Illinois death penalty convictions that have been overturned by subsequent judicial inquiries. Since 1977, thirteen death row inmates have had their convictions reversed. "I cannot support a system, which, in its administration, has proven so fraught with error and has come so close to the ultimate nightmare, the state’s taking of innocent life," Ryan said. "Until I can be sure that everyone sentenced to death in Illinois is...

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