By Monica Davey, The New York Times
Chicago -- Though he once opposed the idea, Gov. Rod R.
Blagojevich said he would sign a bill on Thursday that would make
Illinois the first state to pass legislation requiring police to
record their interrogations of homicide suspects.
Another bill, with a sweeping set of measures intended to overhaul
the state's death penalty system, is also awaiting his signature, and
Governor Blagojevich, a Democrat, said today that he supported, at
least, many elements of it.
The willingness to rethink the system by which some prisoners end up
on death row has changed since the days before George Ryan, the
Republican who preceded Mr. Blagojevich, pronounced the state's
capital punishment system broken, declared a moratorium on
executions, and then, before leaving office this year, granted
clemency to all the condemned.
Governor Blagojevich, a former prosecutor, said his concerns about
"hampering the law enforcement community" by requiring the police to
tape interrogations had been overridden by the notion that tapes will
provide "clearer, more reliable" evidence for the state's justice
Even law enforcement officials, some of whom objected strenuously as
recently as three years ago to the idea that interviews be recorded,
have grown more muted as the politics have shifted here.
"We're not in favor of the mandatory provision," Mark Donahue, who
leads the Fraternal Order of Police in Chicago, said of the recording
bill this afternoon. "We would prefer that it be voluntary. But we're
realists about all of this as well."
The law will require detectives to audio- or videotape homicide
suspects during interrogations that occur while the suspects are in
The police in Minnesota and Alaska and some individual law
enforcement agencies around the country already tape interviews with
suspects, but Illinois is the first state to pass legislation
requiring taping, said Thomas P. Sullivan, a Chicago lawyer who
helped lead a commission appointed by Mr. Ryan to overhaul the
state's death penalty system. Minnesota and Alaska were required to
do so by their state supreme courts.
"This is good for everybody," said Scott Turow, a lawyer and an
author who was a member of the commission, which included recording
on a long list of suggestions for change.
Supporters of taped interrogations say the process protects both
police and defendants by creating a simple, clear record for juries
and judges of who said what during an investigation. The tapes, these
supporters say, would resolve what has become a routine debate during
criminal trials between the police, who testify that suspects
confessed to crimes, and defendants, who testify that they did not
confess, or at least that they did not do so voluntarily.
"Why should we assume that the police remember everything that
happened?" asked Yale Kamisar, a law professor at the University of
Michigan and the University of San Diego.
Opponents of such a measure have argued that a recording requirement
could prevent the police from carrying on interviews as they had
before, or discourage suspects from speaking openly. This afternoon,
a spokesman for the Chicago police said the department opposed the
measure, but for financial reasons.
Dave Bayless, the spokesman, said that adding video equipment and
training technicians would cost $3 million in Chicago in the first
year. The bill requires that the provision be put into effect by two
years from now.
Amy Klobuchar, a prosecutor for Hennepin County, which includes
Minneapolis, said some authorities there initially worried about the
"None of the worries proved true," Ms. Klobuchar said. "Instead, it
makes everyone clear about what happened."
Governor Blagojevich must decide on the related bill that would bar
executions of mentally retarded people, give defendants more access
to DNA evidence and set up a test program for conducting police
"I'm looking at it very closely," the governor said this afternoon of
the broader bill, which, like the taping provision, was
overwhelmingly supported by the Democratic-dominated Legislature in
Springfield. "The odds are that most of that package is something
that I'll support."
Even with the changes, Governor Blagojevich, who supports capital
punishment, suggested he might not end the death penalty moratorium
"I would like to see the death penalty restored in Illinois if I felt
that the death penalty was foolproof in Illinois," he said. '`But
that's the operative question. Morality requires that we not rush to
lift the moratorium."
Gary Gauger, a farmer from McHenry County who was sent to Illinois'
death row for killing his parents in 1993, only to be exonerated
later, was convicted largely on what the police considered his
confession, said Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on
Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University.
Mr. Gauger, now 51, said in an interview that he wished his words had
been taped. He said the investigators did not heed his requests to
stop the interrogation, described to him damaging evidence that did
not exist, and suggested he might have forgotten what he had done.
"They got me thinking that I must have done it in a blackout," he
said. "In my case, if a video had been on, they could have seen what
had happened to me. Not only would the jury have acted differently,
the police would have done things differently in the first place."