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Illinois death penalty takes time
By John Patterson | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 10/8/2009 12:01 AM

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Death row: the long and short of it

A review of past executions finds that inmates spend, on average, more than a dozen years on death row.

Shortest: Charles Walker had the shortest wait. He arrived on death row following his conviction for the robbery and murder of a young downstate couple in October 1983 and was executed just short of seven years later in September 1990.

Longest: Durlynn Eddmonds and Walter Stewart were both executed on Nov. 19, 1997, after each had been on death row just over 17 years. Eddmonds, condemned for killing a 9-year-old boy, spent 17 years and four months on death row. Stewart, convicted of killing two men in a jewelry story heist, had been on death row 17 years and three months.

Source: Illinois Department of Corrections records

SPRINGFIELD - If suburban juries send James Degorski and Brian Dugan to death row, it's likely to take more than a dozen years before the two men run out of appeals and actually face lethal injection.

With the fate of the notorious suburban killers in the hands of jurors this week, the Daily Herald examined past executions and found that of the dozen executions carried out during the 1990s, it took, on average, roughly 13 years from the time the inmate arrived on death row for the execution to occur.

The shortest wait for execution was just less than seven years while two condemned inmates served more than 17 years each before their executions.

Infamous serial killer John Wayne Gacy spent just over 14 years on death row before he was executed in May 1994.

But all of those executions took place before the 2003 passage of a series of new laws overhauled the capital punishment system in the wake of 13 death row inmates being exonerated while they waited for the state to put them to death.

The last person executed in Illinois - Andrew Kokoraleis - spent nearly a dozen years on death row for a string of suburban murders. Gov. George Ryan signed off on his execution in early 1999. Months later, citing his fear of flaws in the system, Ryan announced he wouldn't authorize any more executions. Just hours before leaving office in 2003, he switched ever death sentence to life in prison, an act later upheld as constitutional by the courts.

Anthony Mertz was the first person sent to death row after Ryan's actions. He was convicted and given the death sentence for the 2001 murder of Eastern Illinois University student Shannon McNamara from Rolling Meadows.

Nearly eight years later, Mertz's conviction and death sentence have continually been upheld on appeal. On Sept. 1, a request for a post-conviction hearing was denied. But his case has several more layers of review before the state would be able to seek a final execution date.

So far, Gov. Pat Quinn has continued the so-called death penalty moratorium imposed by Ryan and continued by Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The moratorium is a bit of a misnomer as prosecutors clearly have continued to seek and get death sentences for convicted murderers. Since none of the appeals have been exhausted, neither Blagojevich nor Quinn faced a real decision on whether an inmate should be executed and it's likely that decision won't come up for several more years.