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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Death Sentences Reduced

CHICAGO -- Denouncing the death penalty system as broken, the governor of Illinois commuted the sentences of all the state's death row inmates Saturday, granting clemency to more than 150 people in a dramatic move likely to fuel the national debate about capital punishment.

Governor George Ryan -- a Republican who leaves office Monday after one term -- reduced the prisoners' sentences to a maximum of life in prison without parole. Three will receive shorter sentences, meaning they could some day be released.

"How many more cases of wrongful convictions have to occur before we can all agree that this system in Illinois is broken?" Ryan told a cheering audience at Northwestern University Law School that included several wrongfully convicted former death row inmates.

"I realize that my decision will draw ridicule, scorn and anger from many who oppose this decision," he said, acknowledging the feelings of relatives of crime victims, many of whom fought clemency. "I'm going to sleep well tonight, knowing that I made the right decision," he said.

The move follows an examination of the state's capital punishment system ordered nearly three years ago after investigations found 13 prisoners on death row were innocent.

There are 156 inmates on death row, and another person has been sentenced to death but is not yet in state custody.

Ryan said he was a staunch supporter of the death penalty when he took office four years ago but changed his mind after watching a wrongfully convicted man walk free 48 hours before he was scheduled to be executed.

Democrat Rod Blagojevich, who takes over as governor on Monday, criticized Ryan's decision. "A blanket anything is usually wrong," he said. "There is no one-size-fits-all approach. We're talking about people who committed murder."