2003: Scott Hain, the last juvenile offender executed in the United States

10 comments April 3rd, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 2003, the state of Oklahoma executed Scott Hain for a Tulsa carjacking that netted $565 and two dead bodies.

The Hain that was strapped down on the gurney that evening was a 32-year-old with a nebbishy middle manager look, high forehead pursuing his hairline to the scalp’s horizon where it had drawn up a wilting rearguard picket fringing an egg-bald pate.

But back in 1987 when he stuffed Laura Lee Sanders and Michael Houghton into the boot of their own car and set it ablaze, Scott Hain was 17 years, 4 months, and 4 days of age.

American jurisprudence through the ages has regularly compassed the execution of minors, sometimes astonishingly young ones. But come the late 20th century the still-ongoing execution of a few men (they were all men) for crimes they had committed when still only boys was a deeply contentious subplot of the death penalty drama.

Because of the protracted judicial processes, there was no longer any question at this point of boosting wispy teenagers into electric chairs as South Carolina had done in 1944. The Scott Hains of the world were grown men by the time they died: grown up on death row.

They were, to be sure, nearly men when they killed as well.

The prevailing jurisprudence at this point was the 1989 Supreme Court decision Stanford v. Kentucky, which set the minimum age for death penalty eligibility at 16.*

And so 17- and even sometimes 16-year-old offenders not considered equal to adult responsibility** in most other spheres of life continued to face the executioner through the 1990s and into the 21st century, a period when the death penalty itself picked up steam.

This became an increasingly awkward situation. For one thing, it placed the United States internationally among a very small handful of countries with unsavory human rights records. Maybe it was a matter of the raw numbers; on the day Stanford came down, the United States had executed only 114 people in its “modern” era, and just three of them were juvenile offenders. For the 1990s, there would be an average of 48 executions every single year, and (again on average) one of those would be a juvenile offender.

But even as the numbers grew, only 20 of the 38 death penalty states permitted such executions, and only three states — Virginia, Texas, and Hain’s Oklahoma — actually conducted any such executions at all after 1993.

Foes argued over those years that the diminishing scope of the juvenile death penalty reflected an emerging national consensus against it — which could in turn be held to create a constitutional prohibition under the 8th Amendment’s proscription of “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Most of the death-sentenced juveniles made similar arguments in the course of their appeals, hoping to be the case that would catch the conscience of the court. Hain’s appellate team made this argument, too. It didn’t take, like it didn’t for any of the others who tried it.

Except, it was taking. Those evolving standards of decency were about to evolve right past a tipping point: in 2004, the justices accepted a new case from Missouri that placed the juvenile death penalty question before it once more.

The nine-member high court’s inconstant swing vote Anthony Kennedy — who had once upon a time (call it a youthful indiscretion) voted with the majority in Stanford to permit juvenile executions — wrote the resulting 2005 decision Roper v. Simmons, barring the execution of juvenile offenders in the United States.†

Scott Hain remains the last person executed in the United States for a crime committed in his childhood.

* The bright-line court ruling was necessary because states had indeed death-sentenced even younger teenagers. For example, Paula Cooper was condemned to death by an Indiana jury for a murder committed at age 15; her sentence was commuted to a prison term, and she was eventually released in 2013. The victim’s grandson, Bill Pelke, notably supported Cooper and has become a leading anti-death penalty activist in the intervening years.

** The notion of age 18 as the age of majority predominates worldwide, but is of course as arbitrary as any other, and has not been the threshold selected in all times and places. The Austrian empire declined to execute Gavrilo Princip for assassinating Archduke Ferdinand in 1914 and precipitating World War I because it could not establish that he had reached the age of 20 when he did so.

† Among the notable cases affected was that of Lee Boyd Malvo, the underaged collaborator of Beltway sniper John Muhammad. Malvo was being considered for capital charges in Virginia at the time Roper came down.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Milestones,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Oklahoma,Theft,USA

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2003: He Xiuling, Ma Qingxui, Li Juhua and Dai Donggui

3 comments June 25th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 2003, four women all condemned for drug offenses were among a group executed by shooting at Wuhan, in central China. This mass execution (conducted in secret but preceded by a humiliating public trial) was scheduled around the June 26 International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. China has a very long history of looking askance at drug-dealing, and it usually uses the prelude to June 26 for some pointed, well-publicized executions.

In 2003, photographer Yan Yuhong spent 12 hours with this quartet of women on the eve and morning of their executions at Detention Center No. 1. Only years later did the photographs get out: a moving glimpse of ordinary people under the pall of death and the guards and prisoners around them, they made worldwide news in 2011. Apparently their distribution in 2003 was quashed on authorities’ concerns that they were a bit too moving for the big anti-drug message.

Select images follow; the entire series can be perused here or here, and in poignant timeline form here.

He Xiuling

He Xiuling is the most immediately recognizable among them, a pudgy 25-year-old who looks inordinately mirthful in many pictures, but sobs openly just before she is led away to be shot. Follow-up reporting paints the picture of a simple country girl lured by a boyfriend into being a drug mule. She was evidently led to believe, up until the last, that her sentence would be commuted: “I’ll still only be 40 when I’m free!”

Had she been spared, she would be 35 now.


She thought the white top made her look “too fat”, and a guard kindly provided a black one.


Several pictures how He Xiuling smiling and laughing. Here, she enjoys breakfast on the morning of the 25th. She has about four hours to live.


Weeping moments before her execution.

Ma Qingxui

The oldest of the women and seemingly the only one of the quartet who could be characterized as something more than a small-time mule, 49-year-old Ma Qingxui from Baokang county of Hubei province was on her fourth conviction for smuggling more than 8 lbs. of narcotics.


Dressed all in red, Ma Qingxui donates her clothes to another inmate.


Ma Qingxiu being escorted out of the detention center for the execution grounds at 7:21 a.m.

Li Juhua and Dai Donggui

The prisoners least seen in the series and those of whom the least has been reported in the west.


An ordinary (non-condemned) prisoner paints Li Juhua’s toenails on the morning of the latter’s execution.


She dictates her last will and testament to a fellow-prisoners.


On the evening of June 24th, Dai Donggui carefully folds the execution clothes a guard has purchased for her.


A last supper. Reportedly, McDonald’s food is routinely served at the facility for this occasion.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,China,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,History,Mass Executions,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Women

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2003: Vignes Mourthi, framed in Singapore?

Add comment September 26th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 2003, 23-year-old Malaysian Vignes Mourthi was hanged in Singapore’s Changi Prison as a drug courier, along with his supposed collaborator Moorthy Angappan.

Mourthi vigorously maintained his innocence, and his family has done likewise in the years since, helping turn the young factory worker into a wrongful-execution poster child.

It was a Sgt. Rajkumar who arrested Mourthi by posing as a buyer of his cargo. Rajkumar would later present an undated, unsigned “confession” purporting to show that Mourthi was completely aware that it was heroin he was moving. At first read one might might indeed doubt Mourthi’s insistence that he thought he was carrying “incense stones” … but his compatriot Angappan was indeed an incense dealer and a family friend known to Mourthi as such.

British journalist Alan Shadrake‘s 2010 indictment of Singaporean justice Once a Jolly Hangman (banned in its titular city-state) calls Mourthi’s hanging “arguably one of the most appalling miscarriages of justice in Singapore’s history”.

Rajkumar’s testimony about Mourthi’s confession was instrumental in hanging the young man, but just a couple of days after he arrested Mourthi, Rajkumar himself was arrested (and then released on bail) on a rape accusation. According to the recent book Once a Jolly Hangman, whose denunciations of Singapore’s death penalty system earned its author a prison term in the repressive city-state,

Intense efforts were … made by Rajkumar’s many friends in the CNB and a police friend at Clementi Police Station to persuade ‘J’ to withdraw her statement. The bribes involved large sums of money, which she refused … There were frantic, secret meetings between Rajkumar, his police officer friends and his accuser in shopping malls and fast-food outlets during which he, his family and friends continued to offer large sums of money in exchange for withdrawing her allegations. All this intrigue was going on while Rajkumar was busy getting enough evidence together to ensure Mourthi would be found guilty and hanged.

So. That’s less than ideal.

Sadly for the accused, none of this credibility-melting information was ever known during Mourthi’s trial and appeal. After Mourthi’s execution, the bad cop who hanged him went on trial for corruption over his witness-tampering, and eventually served 15 months.

Certainty is never given to mortals. But Mourthi’s father for one has no doubt: “I know he is innocent.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,Hanged,Malaysia,Ripped from the Headlines,Singapore,Wrongful Executions

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2003: Daniel Juan Revilla

1 comment January 16th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 2003, Daniel Juan Revilla was executed in Oklahoma for beating his girlfriend’s daughterson to death.

“Daniel gave his last few years to his project in the hope that his laughter and good spirit would live on through his work.”

Six months after his 18th birthday, Revilla appeared at the Jackson County hospital with his girlfriend’s infant son, screaming that the child had stopped breathing. The boy never revived.

Doctors trying to save little Mark Gomez couldn’t help but notice a catalogue of injuries: burns, bruises, cuts, brain hemorrhaging. Revilla’s explanation of careening through the house Homer Simpson-esque with the child — scalding him by trying to revive him with bathwater, bonking his head on the door running out to the hospital — didn’t persuade many.

Indeed, trial testimony from the mother and others tended towards the notion that Revilla openly disliked the kid because it wasn’t his, and was given to violently taking out his frustrated reproductive rivalry. He may have tried to “accidentally” kill the child previously.

The victim’s father, Juan Gomez, emerges from the news reports as a distinctly more impressive character, remembering the “short time, but still a good time” he had with Mark without losing empathy even for his murderous rival.

“I do forgive Mr. Revilla,” Juan Gomez told the media. “He was young at the time and I don’t think he realized what he did until it was too late. And I feel very sorry for his family for the loss of their son.”

Some thoughts of Daniel’s (about death row and the death penalty; he didn’t remark on the facts of the case) remain preserved on an ancient Internet page here. Sample:

The death penalty is unequivocally imposed arbitrarily. If you can’t afford justice, you’ll receive just as much justice as you can buy. In the case ofthe poor, that equals : none. There are those on death row, right now, with witnesses, evidence, DNA proof…etc, who can prove their innocence, if only they could afford it. Sadly, they can’t. Nor can they fight the Goliath system that oppresses them…They will die… The indigent, since they cannot afford to hire competent legal representation, are forced to capitulate. They abdicate their lives to the states ‘indigent defense system.’ An unimpressive, underfunded, jerkwater organization; implemented and appointed by the state, to facilitate the state’s desire to escort you through the formalities and into the execution chamber.

A comic series he drew during the half of his life he spent being escorted through the formalities and into the execution chamber was recently published as Dirt Road.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Oklahoma,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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2003: Two Palestinian collaborators

Add comment October 23rd, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 2003, Samer Ufi and Mohamed Faraj (some sources give the latter’s name as Suleiman) were publicly shot by masked al-Aqsa gunmen in the West Bank town of Tulkarem (or Tulkarm) for Israeli collaboration.

A videotape of the two admitting to supplying Israel information which led to militants’ assassination was played in the camp on the eve of their shooting. The dead men’s families contended that they had been tortured into the confession.

Tulkarem in 2003 was a place easy to feel under siege.

Recently prosperous, the fertile district close upon the Israeli border was suffering the effects of the ongoing Palestinian rising.

Tulkarem was in the process of being riven by Israel’s “apartheid wall”splintering communities and devastating a recently prosperous economy.

Isabel Kershner reports in Barrier: The Seam of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict:

Some eighteen to twenty-two thousand Palestinian laborers from the Tulkarm district used to go and work in Israel every day. Now they are prevented by the security barrier that went up during 2003 … an eight-meter-high concrete wall complete with round gray watchtowers, built to prevent Palestinian snipers from shooting at passing cars on the Trans-Israel Highway that skirts Tulkarm to the west. Additional stretches of fence hermetically seal the surrounding villages off from Israel, as well as from some of their agricultural land.

Meanwhile, as elsewhere in the West Bank and Gaza, a a fast-growing list of assassinations struck militants in the community.

We don’t know in these parts whether the executed men truly were informers, but Israel is known to obtain many such targets by way of informers — often reluctant Palestinians it blackmails or bribes. Accused informers are regularly executed in the Palestinian territories.

“For myself, if I were Palestinian, I would hate them to death,” an Israeli intelligence advisor told the BBC of the collaborators recruited by Tel Aviv. “He is a traitor — I need him — but he’s a traitor”.

Part of the Themed Set: Illegitimate Power.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,History,Israel,Occupation and Colonialism,Palestine,Power,Public Executions,Shot,Spies,Torture,Treason,Wartime Executions

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2003: Guillermo Gaviria Correa and nine other FARC hostages

Add comment May 5th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 2003, the Colombian military mounted a raid in an attempt to free 13 hostages of the narco-trafficking guerrilla organization FARC — causing the rebels to summarily execute their hostages. (Three survived.)

Most notable among the victims of what Colombian President Alvaro Uribe called “another massacre” in that country’s long-running civil war were two men:

Scion of a political family, Gaviria had become a notable exponent of nonviolence; he and Echeverri had been captured leading an unarmed, 1,000-person solidarity march in April of 2002.

It was part of the governor’s visionary (or quixotic) bid to transform his society.

As time passes, my confidence about the benefits of spreading and promoting nonviolence in Antioquia grows stronger. It is not about using nonviolence as a tool to try to transform FARC-EP attitudes. Before we can aim that high, it is absolutely necessary for the people of Antioquia to familiarize themselves with the concept of nonviolence and to adopt it, to the best of their abilities, as their own. We need nonviolence as a society to overcome our mistakes and transform the cruel reality suffered by so many in Antioquia. Here I have pondered about what kind of message I could offer as a leader. I came to the conclusion that the only message I want and can give is about the transforming power of nonviolence, its tremendous capacity to bring out the best in human beings, even in the worst of circumstances.

Peace activist Glenn D. Paige paid Gaviria the tribute of comparing him to Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and nominated the governor for a posthumous Nobel Peace Prize.

The diary Gaviria kept during his year’s captivity, reflecting on his “journey toward nonviolent transformation,” has been published.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Activists,Borderline "Executions",Businessmen,Colombia,Cycle of Violence,Drugs,Execution,Executions Survived,Famous,History,Hostages,Martyrs,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Politicians,Power,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Summary Executions

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2003: Four for the oil of Chad

1 comment November 6th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 2003, seven Chadians were shot in the capital of N’Djamena, with an eighth in the eastern city of Abeche. (A ninth would be executed three days later.)

Chad’s first known judicial executions since 1991 came as a shock to observers; the country had publicly mooted death penalty abolition earlier that very year.

It also seems to have come as a shock for its subjects.

Four of those executed this date — the four that concern us here — were ranking power-brokers in President Idriss Deby’s regime convicted of bumping off the head of the Chad Petroleum Company, one Sheik Ibn Oumar Idriss Youssouf.

Mahamat Adam Issa, Adouma Ali Ahmat, Abderamane Hamid Haroun and Moubarack Bakhit Abderamane had been condemned on Oct. 25, just a month after the Sheikh was assassinated outside the Foreign Ministry. Less than two weeks later, the perps were shot when Deby denied them clemency even with their Supreme Court appeal still pending (pdf). (The Chadian judiciary seems a rickety thing (pdf).)

The murder, for its part, came just a month after Chad christened a $3.7 billion pipeline project.

It’s often called the “Adouma affair” after its principal defendant, which helpfully suggests the murky oil politics surrounding the speedy execution.

Ali Adouma was a former Deby advisor; both Adouma and the victim were from Darfur, in neighboring Sudan, whose conflict has spilled into Chad (pdf).

The Sudanese government had at times sought Adouma’s extradition for financing anti-govenrment Zaghawa forces across the border; while the Zaghawa ethnic minority (whose ranks include President Deby) dominates Chad, its Darfurian brethren have had the worst of their conflict with the Sudanese government.

So even if the convicts’ torture-adduced confessions resembled the truth of the murder, it can be safely inferred that the fact and the haste of their executions were matters of state. (Adouma’s confidence that there would not actually be an execution was reportedly shaken only in the last hours of his life.)

What matter of state is a different, uncertain matter: to calm potential foreign investors who’d be understandably nervous about seeing a petroleum kingpin pinched on the streets without consequence? A sop to Khartoum in Deby’s ongoing diplomatic efforts to limit the knock-on from Darfur to Chad? Or a warning to Deby’s own base? (pdf)

The vague attempts at conciliation by the Chadian President do not please his entourage which almost sees it as treason. Last May, 80 soldiers tried to overthrow Deby and would have assassinated him …

President Idriss Deby, according to observers with knowledge of Chadian politics, would be in a “precarious” situation. The Chad regime, undermined by corruption and ever on the brink of a chronic socio-economic crisis … may become even “tougher”. In N’Djamena, the hasty conviction and execution of Ali Adouma are seen as a sign from the President to his inner circle, even the ones in charge of the national economy, that he is ready to use coercion, even against his own clan.

These pictures of the execution were published in a Chadian paper. In image three, the circled figure is one of the firing squad members, who was himself bizarrely reported fatally shot during the execution. (Whispers continue to circulate that the unlucky executioner had in fact been intentionally eliminated after receiving some sensitive parting confidence from the well-placed condemned.)

“Chad,” said Interior Minister Routouang Yoma Golom, “has given a wonderful example to wrong-doers.”

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Chad,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Mass Executions,Mature Content,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Pelf,Politicians,Power,Shot,Torture,Wartime Executions

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2003: Three ferry hijackers

Add comment April 11th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 2003, three men who commandeered a Havana harbor ferry and made a bid for American waters were shot as Cuba cracked down hard on a wave of hijackings.

Things moved extremely quickly for Lorenzo Enrique Copello Castillo, Barbaro Leodan Sevilla Garcia and Jorge Luis Martinez Isaac, described as “the three principal, most active and brutal leaders” of a gang of about 10.* It had been less than two weeks before that they seized the Baragua and ordered it to head for Florida.

The ship ran out of fuel, and the Cuban Coast Guard towed it back to Mariel. There were no injuries reported among the 50 passengers.

In the context of a then three-year-old moratorium on executions on the island, this probably would not have been enough to cost the ringleaders their lives, save that Fidel Castro perceived the need for a salutary example.

Despite the Yankee’s post-9/11 reprobation of “terrorism,” its definition of the phenomenon retained the familiar geopolitical biases — who is and is not a terrorist when it comes to Cuba is driven by anti-Castro Cuban exiles’ outsized political weight in Florida.

So Havana had some alarm to observe a spate of hijackings: two passenger planes had been redirected to Key West in the previous two weeks, and the passengers therefore offered American residency.

Accusing the U.S. of abetting terrorism — Washington blamed Cuba’s airport security — the government sent its own message when the Baragua desperadoes made it three hijackings in a fortnight.**

The Cuban Council of State, including Castro himself, reviewed the charges directly and gave the go-ahead to the shootings.

Hijackings did indeed stop.

Still, such a severe reprisal so swiftly enacted drew sharp rebukes from human rights advocates and even Cuban allies abroad.

Whether chastened by the reaction or just because it was indeed an exceptional circumstance, Cuba subsequently reverted to its de facto moratorium, and has not executed anybody else since this date six years ago. In 2008, Raul Castro commuted most of the extant death sentences in Cuba, leaving only three people — condemned on terrorism charges — still potentially in danger of execution.

* Others drew prison sentences ranging from a few years to life.

** The Cuban government claimed to have prevented yet another attempted skyjacking the night before the execution.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Cuba,Death Penalty,Execution,Piracy,Political Expedience,Power,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Terrorists

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2003: Richard Edwin Fox, bogus job interviewer

Add comment February 12th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 2003, Richard Edwin Fox was put to death by lethal injection at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility for murdering 18-year-old Bowling Green student Leslie Keckler in 1989.

Fox had plucked Keckler’s phone number from a job application she submitted to the Bob Evans restaurant where he worked as a short-order cook, then lured her to a phony job interview.

On the pretext of taking her on her prospective “sales route,” Fox drove Keckler to a rural area outside of Bowling Green where he stabbed and strangled her to death.

Creepily, the exact same modus operandi was linked to another woman whose meeting had been more fortunate than Keckler’s. Marla Ritchey met Fox — posing as “Jeff Bennett” — for a similar interview, and after she realized it was a hoax,

[Fox] asked her what she would do if someone pulled a knife on her and asked her for all of her money or asked her to do “other things” at which point Ritchey did jump out of the [parked] car. The man then attempted to grab Ritchie and told her to come back and as Ritchey ran for her car the man immediately pulled away. (Account from Death Penalty USA: 2003-2004)

Fox left an orphaned daughter (then aged 20) who had pled for her father’s life. Keckler’s brother spoke to the media for the victim’s family afterwards, remarking,

“The family feels justice has been served, that Leslie and my mother can now be at peace.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Lethal Injection,Murder,Ohio,USA

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2003: Nobody in Illinois

16 comments January 11th, 2009 Headsman

Six years ago today, a scandal-plagued governor of Illinois cleared out the state’s death row.

Republican George Ryan, in a speech two days before the end of his term, announced a mass commutation for anyone under sentence of death in Illinois — 157 people plus 10 others with pending legal challenges to vacated sentences, and four condemned men pardoned outright.

[flv:http://www.executedtoday.com/video/George_Ryan_clemency_announcement.flv 300 225]

Once a pro-death penalty legislator, Ryan grew increasingly discomfited with the state’s administration of the error-prone ultimate sanction.

That “demon of error” was dramatically unveiled for Ryan by Anthony Porter, a mentally retarded death row inmate who fortuitously avoided execution by two days on a legal technicality, and was subsequently exonerated by Northwestern University journalism students.

Seen as part of a pattern of wrongful convictions — like that of Rolando Cruz, who was cleared in the early 90’s despite the dogged efforts of then-Attorney General (and present-day quasi-Senator) Roland Burris to execute him in the face of exculpatory DNA evidence.

The governor imposed a moratorium on conducting executions for most of his term, culminating with this day’s controversial (though it did score him a Nobel Peace Prize nomination) announcement. Maybe there’s just something in the water at the Springfield governor’s mansion that attracts its residents to impolitic death penalty interventions.

Successor Rod Blagojevich called Ryan’s blanket clemency “a big mistake”, and his formal continuation of the Ryan moratorium on actual executions has been a dead letter since inheriting a vacant death row meant that no capital case reached the end of its appeals on his watch.

For the favor of sparing Blagojevich the burden of handling a death warrant — although one doesn’t get the sense that Blago is the type for a troubled conscience — George Ryan has been unkindly repaid.

Now residing in federal prison on corruption charges, the ex-governor’s own clemency petition has been complicated by sensational allegations of Blagojevich’s graft.

That petition is addressed to an outgoing executive oppositely inclined on the death row commutation question. Ryan authorized one actual execution early in his term, and spared this day’s host; George W. Bush, his virtual mirror image, has issued one commutation and carried out 155 executions during his time as chief executive of Texas and of the United States.

George Ryan is reportedly skeptical of his prospects for receiving a pardon.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Illinois,Not Executed,Pardons and Clemencies,Ripped from the Headlines,USA

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