Dear Governor Ryan,
I am writing to express to you my opinion regarding your personal and public decision of “blanket clemency” in those petitions now before you. In that regard, I enclose a copy of a letter dated March 11, 2002, sent to Justice Thomas Fitzgerald.
I was appointed to one of the Screening Committees by the Supreme Court in 2001 and worked from that point to my resignation to attempt to “better” the death penalty system. As you can see by my letter to Justice Fitzgerald, at the time of my appointment, I had reservations about participating. Those reservations became reality earlier this year, when the Chicago Tribune exposed the Capital Litigation Trial Bar process as “business as usual” in many counties of this State, revealing that many of the attorneys who had been previously sanctioned for wrongdoing were still being qualified. At the same time in March, I also withdrew my application to the CLTB, as I knew I had to do to be morally consistent.
The committee which you appointed to propose death penalty reforms did just that, their suggested reforms only to be summarily disregarded by the legislature. I have no faith that any meaningful reforms will ever be enacted into law in this state, and believe that all the members of that committee in essence wasted their valuable time and effort.
Just one month ago, I was contacted by the family of a young man charged with a double homicide. It is very likely that the State’s Attorney will be seeking the death penalty in his case. As I spoke to his mother and sister, I explained to them my position in regards to death penalty representation. When they left my office, I had tremendous misgivings, wondering if I should reverse my position and seek re-admittance to the Trial Bar. I felt an obligation to defend this young man against the death machine, which is still so flawed, and which is still up and running. I seriously considered re-applying, but I did not.
I am an experienced criminal defense lawyer. I fight for my clients, without fear of personal consequences, and based on constitutional principles of law. I have practiced criminal defense for fifteen years, and have defended two death cases. I simply cannot participate in the Illinois death machine, at any level. To do so would be to endorse it.
I write to ask you to commute each and every sentence of death imposed in Illinois and now before you for review to a sentence of natural life without parole. I can think of no other way to ensure that an innocent will not die, while at the same time making a statement. The public and our elected officials do not want reform, they want revenge.
I also write to thank you for your actions, to thank you for standing up to the fierce criticism to which your moral position on the death penalty has been subjected. Great leaders make hard and unpopular decisions. Great men make hard and unpopular decisions for the correct moral reasons.
Kathleen Colton, Attorney at Law