A huge uproar has erupted over clemency hearings requested by 142 people on Illinois’ Death Row. The hearings were requested because people facing execution are entitled to file clemency requests, because prosecutors asked for public hearings and because of concerns that outgoing Governor George Ryan has qualms about the death penalty that his successor may not share.

The hearings have been excruciating because the prosecutors have encouraged survivors of murder victims to come and testify in opposition to commutation of the death sentences.

Witness after witness has recalled the brutality of the crimes and the suffering of the bereaved. We are told that only the execution of the prisoner will serve as adequate revenge for the suffering inflicted. Everybody says “justice” but what they mean is “revenge.” And who can blame them?

According to State Attorney General Jim Ryan (no kin) and Cook County States Attorney Dick Devine, these families are being tormented anew because Governor Ryan put a moratorium on use of the death penalty in 2000. According to these prosecutors had it not been for Ryan’s action, these prisoners would not have filed for clemency, and these heart-rending hearings would have been unnecessary.

That Jim Ryan (who is the former DuPage County state’s attorney and who is also running for governor) and Dick Devine can take this position is an attempt to stand the facts on their head. It was the gross misconduct of these officials and others like them that created the situation where at least a dozen – and who knows how many other – innocent men were convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Rather than pointing the finger of blame at the governor, they should resign in shame.

Since the death penalty was restored in Illinois in 1977, 12 people have been executed and 13 have been set free when it was found that they were innocent.

In many of these cases, and in others in which people serving long prison sentences were set free, police and prosecutors engaged in incredible malfeasance, amounting to a willingness to frame people in order to get a conviction. And two of the prosecutors thus compromised are Jim Ryan and Dick Devine.

Jim Ryan’s opponent in the gubernatorial election, Democratic Rep. Rod Blagojevich, has been hammering away at the Cruz-Hernandez case, in which Ryan continued to prosecute two innocent Latino men in spite of clear evidence that another man had committed the murder.

Joe Birkett, Jim Ryan’s subordinate during those prosecutions and current DuPage County state’s attorney, is taking a similar shellacking from State Senator Lisa Madigan, Democratic candidate for Illinois Attorney General.

It was on Devine’s watch, and on that of Rich Daley, former Cook County state’s attorney and now mayor of Chicago (both Democrats, lest anyone charge partisanship), that the notorious Chicago Police commander, Jon Burge, is accused of using torture to extract bogus confessions from dozens of people, some of whom have since been exonerated and freed, and others of whom are now among the death row petitioners for clemency.

Governor Ryan imposed the moratorium, appointed a commission to examine the death penalty, and has indicated that perhaps it should be abolished, because of this reprehensible behavior by individuals who now have the nerve to criticize him, while hiding their own malfeasance behind the tears of the bereaved.

Jim Ryan, Devine and Birkett also inform us that “the system works.” Amost all the falsely accused have been African American or Latino and all have been poor working-class people.

Yes indeed, the system works. Does it ever! But for whom? Let’s overhaul the system by abolishing the death penalty. The place to begin is by defeating Jim Ryan and Joe Birkett on Nov. 5.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org