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Ryan Pardons Three Wrongfully Convicted Men

     During a speech before the University of Illinois College of Law, Illinois Governor George Ryan announced the pardon of three men who had been wrongfully convicted of murder and were later exonerated. Ryan granted the pardons to two of the state's 13 death row exonerees, Rolando Cruz and Gary Gauger, and to Steven Linscott. Cruz and Gauger were among the cases of innocence that prompted Ryan to declare a moratorium on executions in the state. Ryan is currently considering clemency requests filed on behalf of more than 150 death row inmates in the state, and he is expected to act on the requests before leaving office in January. (December 19, 2002)


 Ill. Gov. Pardons Three Men From Prison

Thu Dec 19, 2002

By JAN DENNIS,

URBANA, Ill. - Gov. George Ryan on Thursday pardoned three men wrongfully convicted of murder, including Rolando Cruz, whose case has served as a symbol of flaws in the death penalty system.

Ryan made the announcement as he spoke before the University of Illinois College of Law on the state's death penalty system. Ryan has been considering commuting the death sentences of about 140 men currently on death row.

 "I wish them well; they've been through hell," Ryan said as the crowd gave him a lengthy ovation.

 Two of the men pardoned, Cruz and Gary Gauger, had been on death row. They and the third man pardoned, Steven Linscott, had already been released after their convictions were thrown out. The pardons clear the men's names and allow them to seek compensation for their wrongful convictions from the Illinois Court of Claims.

 The pardons, which had been widely expected, came a day after federal prosecutors released papers alleging that Ryan had personal knowledge of wrongdoing by aides in the secretary of state's office he ran before being elected governor in 1998.

 The governor issued a statement Wednesday saying he had a "clear conscience." He made no statement to reporters Thursday morning.

 Ryan has the power to grant clemency to all 160 inmates facing execution in Illinois, but he has said recently that a blanket clemency is unlikely.

 The Republican governor, who did not seek re-election, leaves office Jan. 13.

 Ryan gained national prominence when he halted executions nearly three years ago, calling the state's death penalty system "fraught with error" after the courts found that 13 men on death row had been wrongly convicted since the state resumed capital punishment in 1977.

He pushed for a sweeping overhaul of the way capital cases are handled.

Cruz served 11 years in prison, including seven on death row, for the 1983 rape and murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico. At a third trial, he was acquitted after a police officer changed his story about an incriminating statement Cruz supposedly made. DNA evidence later pointed to someone else as the rapist.

"I've been dealing with this about 19 1/2 years, so it's like a big relief," Cruz told Chicago TV station WGN. "This is what I always wanted, to ... have this expunged from the record and everything because I didn't do anything."

 DuPage County state's attorney Joe Birkett issued an angry response to news of the pardon. 

 "At best, Rolando Cruz is a man who committed multiple acts of perjury before a grand jury and intentionally obstructed the investigation of the abduction, rape and murder of a 10-year-old child," Birkett said. "If you believe Cruz now, he intentionally pointed the finger of blame at people he now claims were innocent."

 Gauger said he wants to clear his name and seek compensation after being wrongly convicted of killing his parents. Prosecutors opposed his pardon, though they did not dispute that 74-year-old Morris Gauger and 70-year-old Ruth Gauger were killed by members of the Outlaws motorcycle gang.

 Linscott was convicted of murdering a young woman in suburban Chicago. Then a college Bible student managing a Christian halfway house with his wife, he told police about a strange dream he had, which in some ways was similar to the attack.

 The police considered it a confession. He ended up going to prison for more than three years before his conviction was overturned by an appellate court and subsequent DNA testing exonerated him. 


ILLINOIS:  Ryan Pardons 3; Cruz, Gauger,Linscott

Gov. George Ryan today pardoned 3 men wrongfully convicted of murder, including Rolando Cruz, whose case has served as a symbol of flaws in the death penalty system.

 Ryan made the announcement as he spoke before the University of Illinois College of Law on the stateâs flawed death penalty system. Ryan has been considering commuting the death sentences of about 140 men who are on death row now. The men he pardoned today had already been released.

 "I wish them well; they've been through hell," Ryan said as the crowd gave him a lengthy ovation.

 The pardons, which had been widely expected, came a day after federal prosecutors released papers alleging that Ryan had personal knowledge of wrongdoing by aides in the secretary of state's office he ran before being elected governor in 1998.

 The governor issued a statement Wednesday saying he had a "clear conscience" -- but made no statement to reporters this morning.

 Ryan has the power to grant clemency to all of the 160 inmates facing execution in Illinois, but he has said recently that granting clemency to all is not likely.

 A Republican who did not seek re-election, Ryan leaves office Jan. 13.

 His latest actions follow months of emotional pleas from lawyers and others who are convinced that Illinoisâ death penalty system is fatally flawed, and counter-pleas from the families of victims of some of the most terrible crimes in the stateâs history.

Ryan gained national prominence when he halted executions nearly three years ago, calling the state's death penalty system "fraught with error" after the courts found that 13 men on death row had been wrongly convicted since the state resumed capital punishment in 1977.

 He pushed for a sweeping overhaul of the way capital cases are handled. Ryan later raised the possibility that he would commute the sentences of everyone facing execution. That led most of the death row inmates to file formal petitions for clemency.

 Cruz was sentenced to die for the murder and rape of a little girl but later exonerated. His case has haunted police, prosecutors, politicians and the victim's family for nearly 20 years. At a 3rd trial, he was acquitted after a police officer changed his story about an incriminating statement Cruz supposedly made. DNA evidence later pointed to someone else as the rapist.

 Also pardoned was Gary Gauger, who said he wants to clear his name and seek compensation after being wrongly convicted of killing his parents. Prosecutors opposed his pardon, though they did not dispute that 74-year-old Morris Gauger and 70-year-old Ruth Gauger were killed by members of the Outlaws motorcycle gang.

 The 3rd pardon went to Steven Linscott, who was convicted of murdering a young woman in suburban Chicago. Then a college Bible student managing a Christian halfway house with his wife, he told police about a strange dream he had, which in some ways was similar to the attack.

 The police considered it a confession. He ended up going to prison for more than 3 years before his conviction was overturned by an appellate court and subsequent DNA testing exonerated him.