The situation in the Lone Star State is all the more striking in light of the recent decision by former Illinois Gov. George Ryan to pardon four death row inmates outright and commute the sentences of 167 to life in prison. Ryan, a Republican who left office in January, described the Illinois capital punishment system as "arbitrary and capricious and therefore immoral."
John "Jackie" Elliott, executed Feb. 4, is the most recent case in point. Elliott was convicted in 1987 of the rape and murder of an Austin woman. In December, a team of volunteers reviewed his case and discovered, among other things: exculpatory evidence, including 40 witness statements, never provided to the original defense; blood evidence, potentially implicating the prosecution's primary witness, that had never been DNA-tested; and representation by a series of inadequate or incompetent court- appointed attorneys. The team even polled the 12 original jurors, who joined in requesting that the execution be stayed and DNA evidence be provided for testing.
In 2001, a bill that would have outlawed the execution of the mentally retarded was vetoed by [Rick Perry]. Another that would have enabled juries to impose life without parole was derailed by prosecutors who feared, reasonably enough, that juries so empowered would impose fewer death sentences. Those bills and several others, including calls for a moratorium and review, have been proposed again this year, but there is little reason for optimism.