02/09/2002

Illinois Gov. George Ryan Strips Death Penalty from Terrorism Bill

by Christopher Wills, Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Gov. George Ryan used his amendatory veto powers Friday to strip the death penalty from an anti-terrorism measure approved in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Existing murder laws apply to terrorist acts and allow the death penalty, Ryan said.

"In fact, it would be difficult to imagine a scenario under which a terrorist act resulting in death would not already qualify for capital punishment under our current statute," the Republican governor said in his veto message.

Two years ago, the governor declared a moratorium on executions in Illinois after 13 death row inmates were found to have been wrongly convicted. He said it would be wrong to expand the state's death penalty laws while a special commission is studying whether the law needs to be overhauled.

The governor also narrowed a section of the legislation that gives police greater powers to listen in on suspects' telephone conversations, and he made numerous changes in other sections.

"There are provisions ... that could erode protections on individual liberties that have been the law of the land in Illinois for many years," wrote Ryan, who is not seeking a second term.

The anti-terrorism bill's chief proponent, Attorney General Jim Ryan, quickly urged lawmakers to override the changes.

"Crimes such as the terrorist attacks last Sept. 11 demand the death penalty," he said in a statement. "There is no reason not to make that explicit."

The attorney general, who is not related to the governor, has supported the moratorium on executions. But once the system has been reformed, terrorists should be among those sentenced to die, he said.

The anti-terrorism measure was approved in November. Only one lawmaker in the two chambers voted against it.

The bill also makes it a felony to take a firearm on an airplane and lets the attorney general freeze terrorists' assets and use the statewide grand jury to prosecute terrorism cases.

The Illinois governor has the option of rewriting legislation rather than simply signing it or vetoing it. Lawmakers can then accept the changes or reject them with a three-fifths majority.

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