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Illinois Gov. George Ryan Speaks Out for a Moratorium on Executions

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Last week, shortly after a one-hour interview on Democracy Now, Sister Helen Prejean gave U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan a petition signed by 3.2 million people seeking an end to executions. Annam commented “The forfeiture of life is too absolute, too irreversible, for one human being to inflict it on another, even when backed by legal process. And I believe that future generations, throughout the world, will come to agree.” [includes rush transcript]

A few days later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned the murder conviction of celebrated author and editor, Wilbert Rideau, who has been in prison in Angola, Louisiana for 39 years, some of that time on death row. Rideau was the editor of the award-winning prison publication, “The Angolite.” His conviction was reversed because of racial discrimination in the selection of the grand jury which indicted him. The state plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, and even if they lose, Rideau could be retried.

Dozens of death row inmates in the US have been found innocent after new evidence emerged—often they had already served decades; in other cases, their innocence was established only after they had been executed. Appalled by the injustice of who receives the death penalty, Conservative Gov. George Ryan imposed a moratorium on executions in Illinois.


  • George Ryan, Speech to the Association of the Bar of the City Of New York, December 2000.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Last week, shortly after a one-hour interview on Democracy Now!, Sister Helen Prejean, gave UN Secretary General Kofi Annan a petition signed by 3.2 million people seeking an end to executions. Annan commented, “The forfeiture of life is too absolute, too irreversible, for one human being to inflict it on another, even when backed by legal process. And I believe,” the UN Secretary General went on to say, “that future generations throughout the world will come to agree.”

A few days later the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned the murder conviction of celebrated author and editor, Wilbert Rideau, who had been in prison in Angola, Louisiana, for thirty-nine years. He’s the editor of the award-winning prison publication The Angolite. His conviction was reversed because of racial discrimination in the selection of the grand jury, which indicted him — again, indicted him — in 1961. Rideau’s conviction reversed, the state plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. He had been on death row until 1972, when the Supreme Court overturned all death sentences.

Well, dozens of death row prisoners in the U.S. have been found innocent — at this point, close to ninety — after new evidence has emerged, often after they’ve already served decades in prison. Appalled by the racism that weighs heavily in determining who receives the death penalty, the conservative Republican Governor of Illinois, George Ryan, last year opposed a moratorium of executions in his state of Illinois. Recently, he came to New York, and he gave this address to the Association of the Bar of New York.

GOV. GEORGE RYAN: You know, I’ve never felt it was my place, since I’ve taken this stand, to tell other governors or other elected leaders what to do on this difficult issue. I think everybody understands how serious it is, and they have to be comfortable with their own situation and their own laws. And the laws from state to state vary.

And I’ve been asked on many occasion if I’d ever discuss this with George Bush, because of the number of executions that have gone on in Texas. And George Bush and I have different powers. My powers are a lot broader and more sweeping than the powers of George Bush. So as I understand it, he can only stay an execution for thirty days. I can commute an execution. I can do about anything that I decide to do, short of killing somebody or executing him. His power is a little bit different than mine.

So I’ve never told other governors or other elected officials what they have to do. They have to be comfortable with their own system, and if they’re not, then they have to make some attempt to change it.

So what I want to do tonight is to talk about Illinois’s experience with capital punishment and how I reacted to the evidence before me about how well our system works — or, I should say, didn’t work — or how fair — or maybe I should say unfair — it is to the people whose lives are really at stake. A pretty serious proposition, frankly.

We all know that there’s absolutely no margin for error when it comes to the death penalty, where the state takes the ultimate and the irretrievable final action of the taking of another person’s life, and that’s what I want to tell you about tonight.

I relate my experience to you and I share it with you because, frankly, I believe it’s important that we talk about this issue. Maybe I don’t want to talk direct to other elected officials, but maybe we can make them think about what’s going on in their state or what we’re doing at the federal level about an issue that we all know is very difficult and complicated.

And so, I want to tell you, first of all, how honored I am to have the opportunity to come before this prestigious group, probably one of the most influential bar associations in the country, and I’m very honored to have the opportunity to stand before this distinguished group. Believe me, I am.

I’ve been in elective public office for more than thirty years. And during that time, I was a county board member, a legislator, an executive office holder, and I was a staunch supporter of the death penalty. But I also spent forty-three years in the pharmacy business in a little town called Kankakee in Illinois. My family and I had four or five pharmacies, neighborhood pharmacies that we operated there for forty-three years, and we got rid of our last one, I think, in 1991. But I tell you that as a way of background about me and where a lot of my thought process evolved from.

Like a lot of other elected officials, I believed that there were crimes that were so heinous — and I believe that today — that the death penalty sentence is the only proper societal response. I supported the death penalty when I was in the Illinois General Assembly. I spoke for the death penalty. I voted for the death penalty. And I believed in the death penalty. I was a part of the great American body who saw a nation in the grip of increasing crime rates, inner cities becoming armed camps, an ever-growing violence in our streets and in our schools and sometimes even in our places of worship.

Tough sentences, longer prison terms, more jails and strict imposition of the death penalty, those were the answers that we all saw, or some of us did, at least, a lot of us. Catch them, convict them, lock them up and throw the key away. That was good government, and that’s what the people wanted, and that’s basically what they got all across America. But at what price?

As a member of the Illinois General Assembly, I can vividly recall back when we reinstated the death penalty in Illinois. I was on the floor of the Illinois House, and I voted to support the bill. And like all assemblies, the board up on the wall indicates what your vote is. Green means yes, and red means no. And the bill was passing, and I was for it and believed in it, and I punched my button green, and I was going to vote for the death penalty. And I did. And one of the opponents of the death penalty rose and said, “Would any of you that are supporting this bill be willing to throw the switch?” In those days it was electrocutions. “Who would be willing to throw the switch?” Well, I want to tell you, that gave me a great reason to pause and think about what I was doing. But I believed in the death penalty, and I thought it was the right thing. So I gave some words of unqualified support for the death penalty that I regret, but it’s one of those things that I believed in then.

The fact is, now, as Governor, I do throw the switch. The responsibility is mine, and it’s an awesome responsibility.

But since those days, a lot has happened to shake my faith in the death penalty system. Now, let me tell you that until I voted on this back in 19-whatever-year-it-was, '77, I hadn't given a whole lot of thought about the death penalty, because I didn’t interact with it. And I think most Americans are like that today. They think if somebody kills or maims or does something they’re supposed to not do to another person, they ought to pay a pretty heavy price. But in the case of a heinous murder or a crime where they take of another life, they say, “Put him in the chair and juice him. Do whatever you’ve got to do. And let’s get them out of society.” And a lot of people believed that, because they’ve never had firsthand meaning of it. And so, I guess maybe that was my case. Until I became governor, I never really had to deal with it firsthand. I thought about throwing the switch when I voted for it, but it was a flash. Never gave it a second thought. I know a lot more now about the administration of the death penalty in Illinois. And, of course, the more I’ve learned, the more troubled I’ve become.

Earlier this year, in addition to declaring the death penalty moratorium, I established a commission to do a complete reevaluation of the forty-year-old Illinois criminal code. Over those forty years, there’s been a lot of crazy patchwork done to our laws, our uniformed code in Illinois. It’s become contradictory. It’s become duplicative, and our sentences in many ways have been bent and twisted beyond what was originally conceived and probably beyond what simple justice really requires.

So a study of the imposition of sentences can certainly lead any reasonable person, I think, to see the discriminatory disparities that are in the system. I offer this, so that you, you would know that my concern with the death penalty is not just a singular issue. My concern is with the entire criminal justice system and the entire justice system.

Earlier this year, as you know, I declared a moratorium on executions in Illinois. And as was pointed out by Norman, I said that until I can be sure with moral certainty that no innocent person would be put to death, nobody would meet that fate as long as I was Governor. I appointed a commission to deliberate on the issue and to bring me their recommendations, and that was almost a year ago. It will be a year next month. And I won’t sign off on any death sentences until I am absolutely certain that the individual, in fact, is guilty and all rights have been preserved and safeguarded. Now, I don’t know if we can ever get to that point. I don’t know whether that can ever happen or not. But I think in all fairness we had to stop, take a look at it, put some bright minds into studying it to make some recommendations, and that’s what I did. So until that’s done, nobody is going to be executed in Illinois, as long as I am governor.

I want to take you back to the fall of 1998. That was the year that I was running for governor of Illinois. At the same time, there was a death row inmate filing a last-ditch appeal, an appeal that over time, I think, would set in motion events that would change the way I viewed the system of capital punishment. In September of 1998, a fellow by the name of Anthony Porter was on death row, and he was scheduled to be executed on September the 23rd of that year. He had ordered his last meal, and he had been fitted for his burial clothes, and he was two days away from the death penalty. He had been convicted in 1982 in the shooting death of a man and woman in a South Side Chicago park. And as I said, two days before he was to die, his lawyers won a last-minute temporary reprieve based on his IQ. He had an IQ of fifty-one. And there were questions about whether Mr. Porter was competent to understand what was really happening to him and whether he could help in his appeals, let alone face the death penalty.

I’ve never met Anthony Porter. I’ve seen him on television. He’s kind of a delightful guy, when you see him. He’s a little different, wears his hair a little funny, wears a hat. He’s probably been in trouble with the law most of his life, because he — just what he was. But I believe in my heart he never killed anybody. I had no reason to do that other than just what I’d seen of him and how he reacted. But I believe probably he got in the way of some of the local police people. And this is not an accusation, only an assumption. But they had just had it with Anthony Porter. He had probably been in trouble here, there, everywhere: petty thefts, cars, whatever. And they said, “Here’s our chance to get rid of this guy.” And that’s kind of an over-aggressive proposition, but I think it could really be the case.

But let me say that with the delay that he got, we had some journalism students from Northwestern University and their professor, Professor David Protess, who is a powerful champion for justice, had the time to start their own investigation into the Anthony Porter case. It was then, sixteen years old. Here’s a fellow that sat on death row for sixteen years, knowing that he was innocent. Maybe he knew. I don’t know. He had an IQ of fifty-one. I’m not sure what he knew. But I don’t care what he knew, he was on death row for sixteen years. But with the help of a private eye, the students picked apart the prosecution of Anthony Porter. Key witnesses, like one who claimed that he saw Porter do the shooting at the crime scene, recanted their testimony, and the witnesses were saying then now that Anthony Porter didn’t do it.

The students then followed their lead to Milwaukee, where they had a private detective who obtained a videotaped confession from a man named Alstory Simon. And Simon told the private eye, on tape, that he shot the two victims in the South Side of Chicago in that park, because they were in an argument over drug money. And with that new evidence, the charges were dropped against poor little Anthony Porter, and he was freed in February of last year.

The charges against him were wrong, and he almost went to death, wrongfully. Now, here’s a guy, as I said, spent — when it was all over, he spent eighteen years on death row. You know, sometimes you get aggravated about spending five minutes in a traffic lane someplace. Can you imagine spending eighteen years behind bars for nothing? I can’t imagine it. I can’t imagine a worse nightmare.

I had just been inaugurated into my first term as governor, and, quite frankly, I was really kind of caught off guard. I didn’t really know how bad the system in Illinois was. And I couldn’t believe that the system that I had believed in could come that close to executing an innocent person, to come within two days of killing a man for a crime he didn’t commit. It’s pretty frightening. But for the efforts of those highly motivated journalism students from Northwestern University and Professor Protess, Anthony Porter would be dead and buried, killed by the state for a crime he didn’t commit.

I was really stunned by that. I believed in the death penalty. I felt myself being jolted into a reexamination of all I believed in. If those young people at Northwestern never write another story or never report another story, they have performed the highest order of their profession. They helped to save the life of an innocent person.

Shortly after the Porter case, another death row inmate was exonerated, this time by the courts. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the prosecution’s case against a man by the name of Steven Smith hinged on the testimony of a drug-addicted witness, whose testimony had been contradicted by lots of other witnesses. He was exonerated.

At the same time, a case of a fellow by the name Andrew Kokoraleis came to my desk. It was the first case I had where I had to make a decision about the death penalty. Andrew Kokoraleis had been charged with a brutal rape and mutilation, murder, of a young twenty-one-year-old woman that he just grabbed off the street. He had also been involved with a gang connected to several other mutilation murders. But after the mistakes the system had made — and I knew about it, especially in the Porter case — I agonized over what I should do. It’s a tough decision.

Here’s a guy that had taken — I’m a father of five daughters and thirteen grandkids, and nine of them are women, girls. Here’s a guy that took a twenty-one-year-old woman off the street, cut her into pieces, raped her, murdered her and threw her away. So I agonized to make sure that we had the right guy, that he in fact did do this. I thoroughly reviewed the case files. I consulted with the staff. I called former veteran prosecutors. I talked to my lawyer friends that were involved in a lot of cases. And I requested information back from the Prisoner Review Board, sent the case back and said, “Let me have all the information you’ve got on this case.” I checked and double-checked. And then I triple-checked. I wanted to be absolutely sure that Andrew Kokoraleis was guilty of the crime he’d been charged with.

And in the end, I was sure. There was never a doubt in my mind. And he was executed. And he was guilty of a monstrous, unspeakable crime. But I got to tell you, it was probably the most emotional experience I’ve ever been through in my life. It was an exhausting experience, and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. It’s a terrible power that you have, and you’ve got to know how to use it and what to do with it. It all came down to me, the fellow that has to throw the switch.

I’m a pharmacist from Kankakee. As I said, I was in the pharmacy business for forty-three years. I had the good fortune to get elected governor of the state of Illinois, but you know, it could be anyone of you here that could be elected as governor of your state or a death penalty state. It could be a student from Harvard. It could be a judge from New York or a stockbroker, or somebody that’s not involved with the law, like me, that has that power. Whoever wins the highest office of the state has to make the final decision about death row inmates. Should they live, or should they be executed? Should the state exercise that power — the state being, of course, the governor? The governor has to decide if he’s going to throw that switch. And quite frankly, that might be too much to ask of one person to decide. Whether he owned a drugstore in Kankakee or whether he had been a stockbroker from New York really didn’t matter. But that experience was only really the beginning of my questioning of the capital punishment system in Illinois and a torrent of revelations.

AMY GOODMAN: Illinois Governor George Ryan, conservative Republican who, last year in his state, was the first to declare a moratorium on the death penalty. We’re going to go back to that speech in just a minute, a speech he gave before the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. [break]

AMY GOODMAN: We return to the speech of Republican Governor of Illinois, George Ryan, talking about why he imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in his state.

GOV. GEORGE RYAN: In May of 1999, DNA tests exonerated death row inmate Ronald Jones of being involved in a rape and a murder. DNA cleared him. And as you all know, DNA is a very powerful tool for everybody that’s involved in the criminal justice system. You can either convict or you can exonerate or find not guilty. You can convict innocent. You can convict the guilty and release the innocent.

So, after the Porter case, I worked with the Illinois General Assembly to pass into law the Capital Litigation Fund, to provide more money for public defenders and prosecutors to handle capital cases, defense attorneys and prosecutors to hire experts, to make available to them DNA testing and lots of other, as we know, emerging technologies. To date, I’ve put $21 million into that fund, an awful lot of money, and it’s helped provide resources for our lawyers and our prosecutors, and it was a good start. But it became very clear to me, later that fall, that it was really just a band-aid for a capital punishment system that was badly broken.

The Chicago Tribune conducted an in-depth investigation, that most of you are probably familiar with, of the death penalty cases in Illinois last November. It was pretty startling. Half — half — of the nearly 300 capital cases in Illinois had been reversed for a new trial or a sentencing hearing. Half, if you can imagine that. Half. 50%.

33% of the death row inmates were represented at trial by an attorney who had been disbarred or suspended from the practice of law. Now, I’m a pharmacist, and I don’t know how the hell that happens, frankly. I just don’t know. I can’t imagine that I could go over to Indiana and practice pharmacy without a law, let alone be disbarred from practicing law and walk into a courtroom and not have to prove my credentials to somebody while I’m defending a poor innocent — maybe innocent man, or even a guilty person, for a case that he could go to his death for. I don’t know how that happens. And I still don’t know how it happens.

We had thirty-five African Americans that were put on death row that had been convicted by and condemned by an all-white jury. I don’t understand that. In fact, we have two out of three of our 160 Illinois death row inmates now that are African American. Prosecutors, the Tribune found, used jailhouse informants to convict or condemn forty-six death row inmates. Now there’s a reliable source of information, a guy that’s been put into jail and told me, “if you’ll tell me about Norman, I’ll give you six months off your penalty, or I’ll make sure you get a pack of cigarettes every week.” Whatever the deal is, I don’t know. But it was clear that there were a lot of major questions about the system and questions that I alone couldn’t answer.

So in January of this year, the thirteenth death row inmate was found wrongly convicted of a murder for which he had been sentenced to die. His name was Steve Manning. He was no angel, believe me. He was an ex-cop who had been accused of corruption in the past, and he’d been convicted in Missouri of an unrelated kidnapping charge. But in Illinois, he had been sentenced to die for the murder of his former business partner, and the conviction was secured by the testimony of a jailhouse informant. The Illinois Supreme Court, to their credit, was troubled by the informant and his testimony, and they sent the case back for retrial. But without the testimony of the jailhouse informant, the prosecutors dropped their charges against Mr. Manning. Now, I got to tell you, here’s another fellow that could have gone to his death if it hadn’t been for what had happened.

At that point, I was looking at a pretty shameful record in the state of Illinois. The scorecard wasn’t good. Since the death penalty had been reinstated back in 1977, out of the twenty-five people that were on death row, twelve of them had been executed and thirteen had been exonerated. That’s a terrible record. And up until then, with each remarkable complex and sometimes confusing development, I had resisted a lot of calls from some to declare a moratorium on executions.

I can remember meeting with some of my staff shortly after the thirteenth inmate was exonerated. We were discussing some of the latest developments, when I received a call from the Attorney General of the state of Illinois, whose name also happens to be Ryan. He’s not related. But he informed me that his office would soon have to request an execution date from the Supreme Court for an inmate who had exhausted all of his appeals. In Illinois, when the sentence comes down, the Attorney General has to — maybe in other states, too, maybe that’s routine, I don’t know — but he has to go to the Supreme Court to get the date. They’d send the date to us, and we’d follow through with it. He said that he was ready to make the call to the Supreme Court and wanted to let me know. And I had discussed what to do for several days, and I probably made the decision then about what we were going to do with the death penalty, because I didn’t want to go through that exhausting experience that I had been through in the Kokoraleis case. And I knew that that call was going to be many that I was going to be receiving from the Attorney General in the next year, as inmates exhausted their appeals.

So I asked myself, “How can I go forward when we’ve got so many questions about all of this, when we, out of twenty-five people, we exonerate thirteen that we almost kill? How can we proceed with a system like this?” There were a lot of unanswerable questions. There were questions about the fairness of the administration of the death penalty in Illinois. And in my heart I just knew I couldn’t go forward. I couldn’t live with myself. I couldn’t go through what I went through once already. I asked myself, “How could we come so close again and again and again, thirteen times, to putting a fatal dose of poison into some person’s body that had been strapped to a gurney in the death chamber in one of our prisons in Illinois?” I paint that picture because it’s a picture that most people don’t understand. You, I’m sure, do. But most people don’t understand what it’s all about.

It was clear to me that when it came to the death penalty in Illinois there was no justice in the justice system. So on January the 31st, I told the citizens of Illinois that I was going to impose a moratorium, because of the grave concerns I had about the state’s shameful record of convicting innocent people and putting them on death row. I can’t support that system. And its administration, it’s proven to be very fraught with error, and it’s come awful close to the ultimate nightmare.

I don’t know how you prevent another Anthony Porter. There’s a good reason Anthony Porter probably should have never gone to prison. Maybe he should have gone to another institution with an IQ of fifty-one. I really question a system that would prosecute and convict and send a person with that capacity to his death. I question that entire system and those that are involved with it, and other people, other people, that may have paid the ultimate price for a crime they didn’t commit. I couldn’t answer the question. And, as I said, there’s no margin for error. I said that a public dialogue had to begin in Illinois on the question of the fairness of the application of the death penalty.

And I got to tell you, beyond my wildest imagination, the reaction that we’ve had from around the world has stunned me. I had no idea that we would get the kind of reaction that we’ve gotten from people all over this globe, let alone what we’ve heard from people here in the United States. But we have had, I think, some discussion in Illinois now for almost a year.

In March of this year, I impaneled a commission of fourteen concerned, smart, honorable people, people with legal minds like the former distinguished U.S. Court Chief, Judge Frank McGarr, former United States attorney, Tom Sullivan, Cook County public defender, Rita Frye. I called upon author and accomplished attorney Scott Turow. I named citizens like Roberto Ramirez, a first-generation immigrant from Mexico who came to Chicago as a boy after his father was murdered. Roberto was a concerned, compassionate citizen and a very successful businessman. And he’s got a good head on him. And I think he was the kind of person that could sit with these legal scholars, judges and prosecutors, and maybe add a little temperament to the whole policy, to the practice. I pressed back into service an old friend of mine, a Democrat, as a matter of fact: former United States Senator Paul Simon. Paul and I have been friends for a long time, and I asked Paul if he’d sit on that committee, because I know he’s a fair, decent guy and he would add a lot that committee. And I was especially delighted when Judge William Webster, agreed to serve as our special counsel.

I think I put together a pretty good group. And since I’ve appointed them, they’ve had hearings throughout the state of Illinois. They brought people in, talked to them. They’ve asked them about it. Legal minds, prosecutors, those that are hell-bent on the death penalty and those that are hell-bent against the death penalty. We’ve had all kinds of people that have come before that commission, and I’m kind of anxious to hear what they have to say.

I wanted — all I told them was, “Go out and find out what you think is wrong with this system, and tell me if it can be fixed, and if so, how do we fix it?” I have to know if it can be fixed, and then I have to believe that it’s fixed, not because they tell me that it is, but I have to know in my own heart that we’re not going to nail another innocent person.

I don’t think there’s any question that anybody that runs for public office wants to be tough on crime. It goes with the territory. It’s always probably the number one or number two issue when you’re a candidate for anything, that people are asked about what are your concerns. It’s either education and crime or transportation. Those are usually the top three, not necessarily in that order. But crime is always at the top of the list. And I’m a strong proponent of tough criminal penalties and support laws that will program, that will help police and prosecutors use their power in the right way to keep the drug dealers and gun-runners and dangerous criminals off the street.

But we have to insure the safety of our public citizens, but in doing so we’ve got an obligation to make sure that the ends of justice are served. And that’s what’s important here. And you, as lawyers, know that. It’s fundamental to the American system of justice, and it comes down to the question of fairness. Is this system fair?

It’s easy to be an ardent death penalty supporter when you don’t have to make the decision. When you don’t have to throw the switch, when you don’t have to decide who’s going to live or die, its pretty easy to say, “Kill him. An eye for an eye.” But when you sit in judgment, when you have the power to decide who’s going to live or die, it’s an awesome responsibility. And in this country, governors have to make that ultimate decision. And it’s probably, without question, the worst part of the job. I shudder when I think about going through that decision. I hope it never comes to me again. I never want to go through that again. And I can’t believe that anybody that serves in public office would want that, although there probably are some. We’ve got a fellow in the Illinois Senate we call Electric Ed. He’d do it in a minute, gladly.

But it’s an awesome burden that we all have to shoulder and one that we have to do together. As your society and in our group of the General Assembly, as we come to do what we have to do, we have to do it together. And that’s part of the reason that I’m out on this circuit to talk about it and why I’m glad to have the opportunity to be here tonight to talk to you about it. In Illinois, I believe that we did what needed to be done, and I would make that decision again in a heartbeat.

I’ve seen people that have been tried and charged with crimes, and down comes the full force of the Federal Treasury. They hire fifty-two FBI agents and thirty-two IRS agents and whatever else you want to have, and they reach into the treasury and they pull out the money they need to do it. You got some guy that may be a truck driver, who got accused of carrying cocaine across the state line or something, has to mortgage his house, sell his truck, destroy his family, because he can’t — he doesn’t have the treasury to reach into over here.

Let’s talk about justice. It’s kind of like this. And it isn’t just in capital cases, it’s in every case. And then when it’s over, if he’s not found guilty, how does he get his reputation back, and where does he go to get his house and the mortgage back for his house? And how does he get his truck back? And how does he get his life and his family back in shape?

You, the folks here in this room tonight, and the folks just like you all across America can lead this per se, and I’m here tonight to ask you to do just that. not to take all these things for granted because they’ve been in place for years and years. Challenge it. Ask questions about it. Petition your government to make the changes. That’s what this system is about. And that’s why we have to do what we have to do. And you, the leaders of this very prestigious bar association, can lead that pursuit for the sake of justice. But your mission now is to look at the system that you practice in and earn your living from and to make sure that it works for other people and not only the poor people that can’t afford it, but maybe even the folks of average income, and look at it all with a very jaundiced eye. And remember that sometimes prosecutors are a little too zealous. And there may be some of you in the room tonight — and there probably are — saying, “He ought to sit down and shut up.” But let me tell you, life is pretty short, and when you talk about taking a year or five minutes out of somebody’s life, you’re talking about something that’s pretty important. And that’s what it’s all about. It’s about what we do while we’re here to make life just a little bit better for the next person.

Thanks very much for the opportunity to be with you.

AMY GOODMAN: Illinois Republican Governor George Ryan, imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in his state.

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