Thursday, May 19, 2005

"Sentence first - verdict afterwards."

The state's prosecutors killed Tom Cross' effort to raise Illinois' standard of proof for death sentences by requiring a judge or jury to determine that a defendant is guilty beyond "all doubt."

From the Tribune:
The defeat prompted a spokesman for House Republican leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego), a sponsor of the measure, to say it was unlikely that another effort would be made to pass the legislation before the General Assembly's scheduled adjournment this month.

The proposal would have held prosecutors in Illinois to the highest standard in the nation before a criminal could be sent to Death Row. It was designed to ease many concerns about injustices in applying the death penalty. ***

"It's a little discouraging," Cross said. "But you can't sit here and, as a state, put 13 innocent people on Death Row and not continue to do what you can and make sure the system is working."
So how did the prosecutors derail a reform proposal that was supported by death penalty opponents and supporters alike?

The same way that many innocent defendants are convicted: by bypassing the intellect and appealing to raw emotion.
In arguing against the change, one prosecutor drew a parallel to the slayings of two girls in Zion earlier this month. The father of one of the girls has been charged with murder. The prosecutor contended that under the proposed standard it would take just one juror to have "lingering doubts" about an alleged killer's sanity to spare him from the death penalty if he were found guilty. ***

[Peoria County State's Atty. Kevin Lyons], a strong death penalty supporter, described what he called an "unthinkable" scenario like the Zion killings, allegedly committed by Jerry Branton Hobbs III, an ex-convict.

Hobbs, 34, confessed to fatally stabbing his daughter, Laura Hobbs, 8, and her friend Krystal Tobias, 9, in a Mother's Day attack that was apparently triggered when his daughter refused to come home from a park, authorities said.

"Maybe, just maybe, someday a father will murder his 9-year-old daughter," Lyons said. "And maybe, just maybe, the killer will confess on videotape. And maybe, just maybe, the killer will say a little girl pulled a potato knife -- whatever that is -- on me and even though she was little she nearly stabbed me, and all of a sudden I lost it and went out of control." ***

"Only one juror needs to say, 'Look, I know he did it ... but I know he's crazy.' *** So they have this lingering doubt."
Carefully examine this prosecutor's thought process.

State's Atty. Kevin Lyons doesn't have to wait for a sentencing hearing, or a guilty verdict -- or even a trial -- to be utterly certain that the man charged with this crime deserves to be put to death. Lyons doesn't have any time for reasonable doubt much less lingering doubt -- Lyons just knows.

With prosecutors so eager to feed the gallows, is it any wonder that the sincere people like Tom Cross think that Illinois' death penalty system needs a serious overhaul?

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