Friday, August 05, 2005

Governor Ryan’s Execution Moratorium in Illinois: Killing the Innocent

In 2003 when Governor George Ryan of Illinois commuted the sentences of all the convicted murderers on death row in his state, he became a hero to anti-death penalty forces.

Three years earlier, in 2000, he had imposed a moratorium on executions to allow a review of the supposed defects in the system.

Ryan said he would “sleep well knowing I made the right decision.”

Now, two scholars have concluded that he killed a bunch of people.

A new paper titled “Execution Moratoriums, Commutations and Deterrence: The Case of Illinois” by Dale O. Cloninger and Roberto Marchesini (both of the University of Houston) examined the effect of (first) the moratorium, and then the mass commutation on the murder rate in Illinois. Their conclusion:
In January 2000, the Governor of Illinois declared a moratorium on executions pending a review of the judicial process that condemned certain murderers to the death penalty. In January 2003 just prior to leaving office, the Governor commuted the death sentences of all of those who then occupied death row. We find that these actions are coincident with the increased risk of homicide incurred by the residents of Illinois over the 48-month post event period for which data were available. The increased risk is associated with an estimated 150 additional homicides during the post-event period.
Translation: Ryan’s antics killed about 150 innocent people.

This can be added to seven recent econometric studies showing that the death penalty does indeed deter murders. (See the Cloninger and Marchesini paper for citations.)

We think the anti-death penalty crowd has a lot chutzpah claiming to occupy some moral high ground. Just how moral is it to allow the killing of innocent victims because you happen to be squeamish about executions?

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