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updated: 1/12/2011 7:50 PM

Ban wouldn't clear death row; Cruz says that's the right thing

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  • Rolando Cruz

      Rolando Cruz

 
 

Even if Gov. Pat Quinn signs legislation that would repeal the death penalty, it would have no bearing on 15 inmates on death row.

And that's just fine with former death row inmate Rolando Cruz, who was exonerated for the 1983 murder of Naperville 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico.

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Cruz believes the inmates already facing death deserve it. "People owe it to the victims," he said Wednesday.

But Quinn would also have to lift the moratorium that prohibits death sentences from being carried out in the state, Department of Corrections officials said.

"It will only affect future sentencing," said Sharyn Elman, a Corrections spokeswoman, said Wednesday of the proposed ban.

With the 15 men on death row, Quinn has three options: leave the moratorium in place and the inmates on death row; lift the moratorium and "the inmates could eventually be put to death;" or commute their sentences to life or something other length, Elman said.

Cruz repeatedly said that Brian Dugan -- the man who eventually pleaded guilty to Nicarico's rape and murder -- should be put to death by "lethal injection, which he so rightfully deserves."

Also Wednesday, Cruz's former attorney Lawrence Marshall said the possible repeal is a "vindication" of many people's work over the years. Marshall co-founded the Center for Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University following his work on the Cruz case.

"It's really a great testament to the extent to which the legislature takes so seriously the grave risk of executing the innocent as well as the other problems with the death penalty," Marshall said by phone from his office at Stanford University where he now teaches. "My strong hope is that significant resources will be saved by doing away with the death penalty."

Marshall suggested money that used to go toward capital litigation be used instead for victim counseling, financial assistance for victims and additional policing resources.

"There's no evidence that the death penalty prevents murders," he said, "but there is evidence that increased policing prevents crime."

Elman said the Corrections Department has not made any plans for the 15 death row inmates if the governor commutes their sentences.

Illinois has carried out 12 executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Former Gov. George Ryan placed a moratorium on the death penalty in 2000 following a number of high-profile exonerations of death row inmates. Two days before leaving office in 2003, Ryan commuted the sentences of 167 death row inmates and pardoned four others.

If signed by Quinn, the ban would go into effect July 1.

Cook County Assistant Public Defender Jim Mullenix is representing several defendants charged with capital crimes. He was pleased by the legislature's actions in recent days.

"Taking the death penalty off the table is a huge relief," said. "You're grateful that you don't have to beg for (a defendant's) life."

• Daily Herald staff writer Barbara Vitello contributed to this report.

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