Death penalty moratorium still not put to test

 
 
Posted3/10/2010 12:01 AM

The ranks of Illinois' condemned men is quietly swelling despite the unofficial moratorium.

Triple killer Edward Tenney joins 15 other convicted murderers sentenced to death by lethal injection.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

After 13 innocent men on death row were exonerated, former Gov. George Ryan characterized Illinois' as a broken system and enacted a 2000 moratorium on executions. He later commuted the sentences of 167 condemned inmates to life in prison without parole.

Several reforms followed, as the exonerations continued. To date, 20 death penalty inmates have been cleared in Illinois since 1977, when capital punishment was reinstated.

Attempts to abolish the death penalty haven't advanced far in Springfield, but there has been a dramatic shift in how often death sentences are given.

Before the moratorium, experts say, 12 to 20 death sentences were imposed each year here. That number dropped to fewer than four annually, similar to a national trend in which death sentences are down more than 60 percent since 1999 and executions have been cut in half.

Illinois has not executed an inmate since Andrew Kokoraleis, who died by lethal injection in March 1999. Kokoraleis and three members of his so-called Ripper Crew were responsible for the sex slayings of up to 21 women in Cook and DuPage in the early 1980s. The others remain in prison.

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Since Ryan cleared out death row, judges and juries sentenced 18 people to death. One committed suicide. The Illinois Supreme Court last year granted a new trial for death row inmate Laurence Lovejoy, an Aurora man convicted of killing his stepdaughter. Justices also recently ordered death row inmate Brian Nelson to be resentenced to life for four Will County murders. The case is on appeal, though, so Nelson still is listed on death row.

Gov. Pat Quinn has declined to lift the moratorium, as had Rod Blagojevich before him. Quinn's Republican challenger, Sen. Bill Brady, said he supports the death penalty and will lift the moratorium if elected.

If so, Anthony Mertz is first in line. Mertz killed Eastern Illinois University student Shannon McNamara, of Rolling Meadows, in 2001. Mertz continues to exhaust his appeals and likely has at least three more years before his execution.