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State moratorium on executions - 10 years and counting
By Robert Sanchez | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 7/28/2009 7:06 PM | Updated: 7/28/2009 8:55 PM

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Even if Brian Dugan's remorse fails to convince a jury he should be spared the death penalty, his chances of being executed soon are very slim.

More than a decade has passed since an execution occurred in Illinois. Experts say it could be even longer before the state puts its next condemned inmate to death - if it happens at all.

On March 16, 1999, Andrew Kokoraleis was put to death by lethal injection after he was prosecuted for his role in the slaying of nearly 20 women in the 1980s in Cook and DuPage counties.

Then in 2000, former Gov. George Ryan, citing the wrongful prosecution of Rolando Cruz for Jeanine Nicarico's murder, declared a statewide moratorium on executions. He cleared out Illinois' death row three years later when he commuted 167 death sentences to life terms.

At the time, a commission Ryan formed recommended about 85 changes to the justice system it said needed to be completed before the state should consider reinstating the death penalty.

Only about 20 of those suggestions have been adopted, according to Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center.

"The governor (Ryan) took the position that if there aren't enough assurances passed by the legislature, he's going to continue the moratorium," Dieter said. "Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and (Gov. Pat) Quinn continued that because there hasn't been much more action. There is a sense that more needs to be done. It's sort of a stalemate."

Earlier this year, Quinn said he has no immediate plans to lift the moratorium on the death penalty. He said he wants adequate safeguards in place to ensure no innocent person is put to death.

Dieter said another governor could lift the moratorium, but even if that happened now, it wouldn't lead to immediate executions.

"All the people who would have been at the front of the list were commuted," Dieter said.

Meanwhile, 15 men sentenced to die in the six years since Ryan cleared death row haven't exhausted their appeal rights. The average time between sentencing and execution is about 15 years, Dieter said.

Of the inmates now on death row, Anthony Mertz is first in line to face execution. But he can still appeal his sentence for the 2001 murder of 21-year-old Rolling Meadows native Shannon McNamara at Eastern Illinois University.