Gov. Ryan pardons 4 condemned men
Published: Saturday, January 11, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 10, 2003 at 11:58 p.m.
CHICAGO - With just three days left in office, Gov. George Ryan on Friday pardoned four death row inmates he said were tortured by Chicago police into falsely confessing in the 1980s, declaring their cases "perfect examples of what is so terribly broken about our system."
Ryan announced the pardons as part of a three-year campaign to reform Illinois' capital punishment system, which began when he declared a moratorium on executions in January 2000. He leaves office Monday.
The Republican governor said he will announce Saturday whether he will commute the sentences of 140 other death row inmates to life in prison.
Ryan pardoned Madison Hobley, Stanley Howard, Aaron Patterson and Leroy Orange, saying police tortured them into confessing to murders they had not committed. Each was on death row for at least 12 years; Orange was on death row the longest, more than 17 years.
"We have evidence from four men, who did not know each other, all getting beaten and tortured and convicted on the basis of the confessions they allegedly provide," Ryan said. "I believe a manifest injustice has occurred."
All of the men but Howard, who was convicted of a separate crime, were expected to be released Friday.
Patterson's mother, JoAnn, said she was overwhelmed by the news: "I don't believe in miracles, but this is a miracle."
As he left the Pontiac Correctional Center, Hobley said he hoped the officers who tortured him would be charged.
Reaction from death penalty supporters was swift. Dick Devine, prosecutor in Chicago's Cook County, called the pardons "outrageous and unconscionable."
"By his actions today, the governor has breached faith with the memory of the dead victims, their families and the people he was elected to serve," Devine said.
Ollie Dodds, whose 34-year-old daughter, Johnnie Dodds, died in an apartment fire Hobley was convicted of setting, said she was saddened by the governor's decision.
"I don't know how he could do it," said Dodds, who still believes Hobley is responsible for the crime. "He doesn't deserve to be out there."
Ryan spread the blame during an hour-long speech, calling Illinois' criminal justice system "inaccurate, unjust and unable to separate the innocent from the guilty, and at times very racist."
He blamed "rogue cops," zealous prosecutors, incompetent defense lawyers and judges who rule on technicalities rather than on what is right.
The governor also said he felt he had little choice when he declared the moratorium on executions, since 13 men had just been freed from death row after new evidence or flaws in their cases turned up.
Hobley, 42, contended he made a false confession in 1987 after he was beaten and nearly suffocated. He was convicted of murder and arson in the deaths of seven people, including his wife and infant son.
Patterson, 38, said police coerced his 1986 confession by threatening him with a gun, beating him and trying to suffocate him. He was convicted of murdering a couple who were allegedly selling illegal weapons.
Howard, 40, was found guilty of murder, armed robbery and rape, among other crimes. He said he was forced to confess after he was handcuffed to a wall ring, beaten and choked by police in 1984.
Orange, 52, was sentenced to die for the stabbing of his former girlfriend, her 10-year-old son and two others. He claimed that police tortured him by applying electric shocks to his testicles and rear end and putting a plastic bag over his head. His half-brother is also on death row for the slayings and has said he, too, was coerced into confessing.
"The system has failed all four men," Ryan said. "It has failed the people of this state."
The governor said at least 33 people convicted of murder and not sentenced to death have been found to have been wrongfully convicted since 1977. On Friday, he pardoned one of them: Miguel Castillo, who spent 11 years in prison for a murder he could not have committed because he was in jail at the time. Castillo's conviction was thrown out earlier.
Ryan also pardoned Gary Dotson, who served several years in prison for rape before his attacker recanted and DNA evidence proved him innocent.
It remains to be seen whether Ryan will be remembered more for his stand against capital punishment or for a corruption scandal that shattered his career and crippled the state Republican Party he once led.
A federal trial is expected to get under way next week over whether Ryan's former chief aide and his campaign committee illegally diverted state resources for campaign purposes.
A number of Ryan's close advisers have been indicted, and federal prosecutors have alleged the governor knew of attempts to conceal potential wrongdoing from investigators. Ryan has not been charged.
He did not run for a second term in November.
"It's a dream come true, finally," he said. "Thank God that this day has finally come."
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