CHICAGO, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- Illinois Gov. George Ryan prepared Friday to clean out his state's death row, ordering three condemned inmates released from prison and saying a fourth inmate probably should be free as well.
All four inmates had one thing in common: All were arrested in Chicago and interrogated by a now-fired Police commander, Lt. Jon Burge. Along with the men under his command, Burge is suspected of using torture tactics -- including electric shocks and smothering suspects with plastic typewriter bags -- to elicit confessions.
Ryan granted pardons to Madison Hobley, Aaron Patterson and LeRoy Orange. All three were to be released from prison some time late Friday.
Another condemned inmate, Stanley Howard, will be removed from death row. He still has prison time to serve for robbery, kidnap and sexual assault charges, but Ryan said he thinks the evidence in that separate case is also troubling because torture tactics may have been used.
Burge has lived in Florida ever since he left the Chicago Police Department in 1993. A special prosecutor continues to look into dozens of torture allegations against Burge but Ryan said he expects no one will ever get to the bottom of those cases.
"Because of the brutal police work of Jon Burge, it almost ensures that the truth will never really be found," Ryan said. "The families of the victims of these long ago murders may never know what happened to their loved ones and why."
During his four years as governor, Ryan has made a priority of studying the way the Illinois capital crimes statute was applied.
Ryan noted 12 people were executed during the 1990, but 17 condemned inmates now have been cleared because of new evidence.
Ryan, who was a pharmacist in Kankakee, Ill., before getting into politics, said he has trouble understanding how the legal system could allow such cases get through.
"I can see how rogue cops, 20 years ago, could run wild. I can see how ... they perhaps were able to manipulate the system," Ryan said. "What I can't understand is why the courts can't find a way to act in the interest of justice.
"I'm not a lawyer, I am a pharmacist. I don't understand how this happens."
His actions on Friday are likely to be a prelude to Saturday when he is scheduled to speak to students at Northwestern University Law School and may reduce the sentences of many of the 155 remaining death row inmates. Ryan reportedly is considering reducing sentences for about 120 to natural life without parole.
Such massive clemency has angered family members of the people who were killed in various crimes across Illinois who say their pain and suffering is being ignored.
Ryan said no one should assume that a prison term reduction is sympathetic.
"I will tell you there are prisons where there is no air conditioning. Conditions are pretty stark," Ryan said. "In every prison, the inmates are told what to do at all times.
"They have no freedom. We must keep things in perspective."
Hobley's sister, Robin, said she was pleased with Ryan, but added the real joy would be when she sees him released from prison. "It gets better when I go to pick him up."
Andrea Lyon, a DePaul University Law School professor who helped represent Hobley, praised Ryan, who leaves office Monday.
"Doing what's right is not always a simple matter, and the inability to turn one's back on something that is wrong is very important," Lyon said.
Northwestern University professor David Protess, who has overseen studies that resulted in evidence clearing death row inmates, said he was glad to see Ryan willing to clear so many inmates of their "condemned" status. "For everyone he does, he saves a life. That's very good."
Prosecutors across Illinois have been upset with Ryan for making the issue a priority.
Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine, in a prepared statement, said he thinks the governor's actions, if they result in massive reductions in death row sentences "will have totally circumvented the responsibility of government to enforce the laws and to implement appropriate punishment for the taking of innocent life."
But civil rights leader, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said he believes Ryan deserves praise for his actions Friday.
"It was morally correct, but politically challenging," Jackson said. "This is his legacy."