Advocates rethink capital punishment in Illinois

The impact of the state’s moratorium on the death penalty is having a ripple effect in which many in the justice system are re-evaluating the concept of capital punishment, according to experts in the field.

A May ruling of life in prison for Juan Luna, one of those convicted in the 1993 Brown’s Chicken restaurant murders in Palatine, focused renewed attention on the death penalty in Illinois. Luna is being cited as an example of how arbitrary-and unfair-the death penalty can be.

Luna’s life was spared when a woman on the jury refused to go along with the 11 other jurors in voting for the death penalty.

“Luna is one of those cases where everyone thought it was a slam dunk for the death penalty,” said Richard Kling, professor at Chicago-Kent Law School and author of “Illinois Criminal Defense Motions,” a manual of motions for Illinois criminal defense practitioners. “It showed the arbitrariness of the death penalty. If Luna didn’t get it, then who would get it?”

The moratorium on the death peanlty in Illinois was imposed in 2000 by then-Gov. George Ryan, who was later convicted on corruption charges. Since the moratorium, the state has processed fewer capital cases, according to a report by the Illinois Coalition to Abolish The Death Penalty.

Part of the reason for the moratorium in the first place is because of the dozen inmates on Death Row who were exonerated, according to research analyst Mark Powers from the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. Although the state is not allowed to execute anyone on Death Row, Illinois still allows the death penalty to be sought.

However, pending any future changes, the currrent system remains in place, advocates point out.

Study: Family issues cause youth to run away

Family dynamics, such as divorce, arrival of step-parents and sibling friction accounted for nearly 30 percent of calls to a Chicago runaway hotline last year, according data in a 2006 study conducted by the National Runaway Switchboard, a Chicago-based crisis hotline for runaway youth.

Experts say there is a “clear link” in Illinois between divorce rates and the number of missing children. Of the top 10 counties with missing children in 2006, seven also ranked among the top counties for divorces and annulments in 2003, according to data from the Illinois Department of Health and the Illinois State Police Clearinghouse for Missing Persons.

According to the clearinghouse report, there was a total of 16,643 children reported as runaways in 2006.

Compiled by Terry Dean and Medill News Service