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29 U. Dayton L. Rev. 379 (2003-2004)
Dead Men Walking - An Abuse of Executive Clemency Power in Illinois

handle is hein.journals/udlr29 and id is 387 raw text is: DEAD MEN WALKING' - AN ABUSE OF
David A. Wallace*
Former Illinois Governor George Homer Ryan created a grave injustice
by granting blanket clemency to all of the condemned inmates on death row
in his state. This comment analyzes this unprecedented exercise of
executive power by a state governor. Part I of this article addresses the
clemency debate in Illinois and provides some background on Governor
Ryan's actions. Part II provides a brief history of the clemency process. It
also discusses the underlying purposes of clemency. Part IU discusses three
of the most egregious capital cases from Illinois. Part IV analyzes Ryan's
actions and provides three arguments attacking his decision. Part V
provides some parting comments on the propriety of Ryan's actions.
In reference to the current state of capital punishment in the United
States, Austin D. Sarat, a renowned professor of political science and law
at Amherst College, accurately and insightfully observed [w]e're in a
period of national reconsideration. . . . People are asking if the death
penalty is compatible with values which in the American mainstream are
taken seriously: equal protection, due process, protection of the innocent...
What was played out in Illinois will be played out across the nation.2
What transpired in Illinois was absolutely amazing. Jeffrey Toobin,
CNN legal analyst, noted Mr. Ryan's decision will be a 'turning point' in
the debate over the death penalty, 'but I'm not sure in which direction.
On January 11, 2003, the Illinois Governor, in an unprecedented move,
issued a blanket grant of clemency,4 thereby commuting the sentences of all
* Lieutenant Colonel, United States Army. Professor of Constitutional and Military Law, United
States Military Academy, West Point, NY. B.A., Carnegie-Mellon University (1983); J.D., Seattle
University (1989); M(S)B.A., Boston University (1993); LL.M, The Judge Advocate General's School
of the Army (1995).
'Dead Man Walking is a 1995 movie starring Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon about the relationship
between a condemned inmate and a nun to whom he turns for spiritual guidance prior to his execution.
The movie is based upon a book about Sister Helen Prejean who ministered to death row inmates.
Amanda Bower, Dead Men Walking, Time Mag. 40 (Jan. 20, 2003).
2 Adam Liptak, Number of Inmates on Death Row Declines as Challenges to Justice System Rise,
N.Y. Times A13 (Jan. 11, 2003).
3 Joyce Howard Price, Death Row Gets Life in Illinois, Washington Times AOl (Jan. 12, 2003).
4 Beau Breslin & John J.P. Howley, The Law and Politics of the Death Penalty: Abolition,
Moratorium, or Reform? Defending the Politics of Clemency, 81 Or. L. Rev. 231, 235 (2002).
[C]lemency refers to the power of an executive to alter the outcome of a judicial decision by
diminishing the impact of a defendant's punishment - to change the specifics of a court's

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