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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1944: Galeazzo Ciano and four other Italian Fascists

11 comments January 11th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1944, Benito Mussolini had his son-in-law, the politician Galeazzo Ciano, shot for treason outside the gates of Verona along with four other fascists who had abandoned Mussolini.

A glamorous playboy in public life, Ciano was the scion of a wealthy fascist founder. The youth wed Mussolini’s eldest daughter in 1930 and quickly ascended the party’s ranks, becoming Foreign Minister at the tender age of 33.

Ciano’s treachery, and that of the others seated in chairs and shot from behind on this day, was to have voted with the majority of the Fascist Grand Council for deposing Mussolini as Allied attacks thrust Italy into a desperate position. This confused affair lacked the character of a coup d’etat, but Mussolini was indeed placed under arrest the next day and a separate peace concluded with the Allies in early September.

Soon after, an audacious German glider raid freed Mussolini, who was quickly re-installed as head of a Nazi puppet state in northern Italy.

Ciano’s capture by this body set in motion a final personal drama with implications for later students of the Second World War. Edda Ciano escaped to Switzerland with her husband’s diaries — potentially damaging notes on the machinations of the Axis.

These scribblings she took hostage for the life of her husband. The blackmail was not accepted — to the grief of Edda, who never spoke to her father again.

One final quixotic rescue attempt cooked up by a female SS administrator on Ciano’s guard detail — the last of many women drawn to this charismatic man — foundered; the preordained death sentence came down on January 10th, and the men were shot the next morning.* Mussolini reportedly fretted in the small hours of the night over whether his standing in Hitler’s eyes would suffer should he intervene.

Edda had the diaries published as she threatened, and if they exposed scant novel evidence against his German and Italian compatriots, they offer a window upon diplomatic intrigue and personal relationships within the Pact of Steel.

The last entries were written from prison just three weeks before his execution, and (allowing that by that time the author had reason to lay blame for policy missteps explicitly at Mussolini’s door) the protracted effort they describe to steer the impulsive Duce towards some sane foreign policy — something that might have spared Italy the devastation of war and maintained a fascist government, as Spain managed to do — reads almost farcically in retrospect. Italy could make little material contribution to the war, and probably had as much to fear from Hitler in victory as from the Allies in defeat … but at every turn, Hitler’s inspiring star pulled the Italian dictator away from realpolitik and towards romantic catastrophe.

As the invasion of Poland approached, for instance, Ciano watched Mussolini vacillate on whether to cast his lot irrevocably with Hitler.

The Duce’s reactions are varied. At first he agrees with me [not to commit to war]. Then he says that honor compels him to march with Germany. Finally, he states that he wants his part of the booty in Croatia and Dalmatia.

Like World War II’s every nook and cranny, the Italian experience bestrode by Ciano has received eager literary coverage.

Edda and Galeazzo Ciano’s son Fabrizio also wrote a personal memoir entitled Quando il nonno fece fucilare papa (“When Grandpa had Daddy Shot”).

* Four of the five were only wounded by the initial volley, and the fifth was missed altogether; all were dispatched with a coup de grace.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Botched Executions,Famous,Famous Last Words,Germany,Italy,Mature Content,Notably Survived By,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Shot,Treason,Wartime Executions

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