CONTACT: TOM SNEE
300 Plaza Centre One
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0010; fax (319) 384-0024
Release: Jan. 6, 2003
UI law professor signs death penalty clemency letter to Illinois governor
Baldus, a UI law professor and nationally recognized death penalty expert,
is one of 400 law school professors to sign a letter to Illinois Gov. George
Ryan pointing out that U.S. leaders have in the past commuted significant
numbers of criminal sentences, including the death penalty.
Ryan, a Republican, is currently reviewing for possible clemency the cases
of more than 140 of the state's 160 death row inmates because 13 prisoners
sentenced to death in recent years had been freed after their convictions
were called into question. He also placed a moratorium on all executions until
the reviews were complete.
Ryan has said he is reviewing each case individually and will not issue
a blanket commutation of all death row inmates seeking clemency. Critics of
Ryan's review claim that a blanket clemency of more than one or two prisoners
is unprecedented, a claim refuted in the letter from the law professors. The
letter urges consideration of such a clemency by explaining that a president
and eight governors have issued blanket commutations of death row inmates,
so such a move is not historically unprecedented. For instance, New Mexico
Gov. Toney Anaya commuted the sentences of all his state's death row inmates
in 1986, and Arkansas Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller did the same thing in 1970.
"The letter points out many examples of large numbers of commutations
at one time at both the state and federal level going back to the founding
of the republic," said Baldus. "It very persuasively makes the point
that such an action is not at all unusual."
Baldus said the letter crossed his desk at the end of November and while
he "usually doesn't sign these kinds of things," he made an exception
"It's very well-written, dispassionate and factual," he said.
"It's not political or ideological at all." He adds that the letter
does not take a position that any or all of the death sentences should be
Ryan will make his decision before he leaves office Jan. 13.
Baldus has studied the use of the death penalty in the United States for
years and is a frequent critic of its application, particularly in a racial