Stepping Toward Sanity

FINALLY.

Mounting evidence of errors in the capital-punishment system has led a bipartisan commission in Illinois to conclude: "No system, given human nature and frailties, could ever be devised or constructed that would work perfectly and guarantee absolutely that no innocent person is ever again sentenced to death."

That risk alone should be reason enough to abolish the death penalty.

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After 13 inmates on death row were exonerated in Illinois over the past 10 years, Gov. George Ryan courageously placed a moratorium on the death penalty in the state two years ago and set up the commission. It studied all death-penalty cases in Illinois since capital punishment was reinstated in the state in 1977.

Its report, released yesterday, recommends more than 70 (that number alone should be a signal that changes were sorely needed) ways to help prevent unwarranted executions. They include limiting the type of crime punishable by death, videotaping all interrogations of suspects, and setting up a statewide DNA database.

The report also calls for bans on executions of those deemed mentally retarded, and of individuals whose convictions were based on testimony by a sole eyewitness. But it did not go the whole distance: It doesn't recommend abolishing the death penalty, although it does say "a narrow majority" of its members supports the idea.

The 37 other states that still invoke the death penalty should give this report a close read and reconsider their own capital-punishment laws. This should advance the national debate, and help win over those who see death as an answer to criminal behavior.

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