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Illinois to empty death row

Illinois to empty death row

Other death sentences may be replaced with life in jail

All prisoners in the US state of Illinois facing the death penalty

are to have their sentences commuted, a spokesman for the

state governor says.

Governor George Ryan

"came to the decision this

was the only thing to do,"

Dennis Culloton said, the

Associated Press news

agency reports.

The decision affects 156 inmates waiting execution in Illinois.

The BBC's Justin Webb in Washington says the Governor's action will send shockwaves around the nation and may lead to other states

taking radical action in the future.

However, he says opponents of capital punishment still have a long way to go before it is banned throughout the United States, even

though support for it is falling.

'Manifest injustice'

Governor Ryan has been talking about commuting the sentences for all those on death row in Illinois "for a few days", spokesman Culloton


Such a decision has not been taken in any US state for 16 years.

The move brought angry reaction from one family whose son was killed by one of the men to be


"My son [William] is in the ground for 17 years and justice is not done, Vern Fuling said, the

Associated Press says.

On Friday Governor Ryan reprieved four prisoners on death row in Chicago.

The four have always maintained they only confessed to gruesome murders after they were beaten

and suffocated by Chicago police officers.

The governor supported them.

"I have reviewed these cases and I believe a manifest injustice has occurred... I believe these men

are innocent.

"I still have some faith in the system that eventually these men would have received justice in our

courts but the old adage is true: Justice delayed is justice denied."

Mr Ryan's views on capital punishment have changed radically over the years.

A Republican, he was elected in 1998 as a supporter of the death penalty.

In other parts of the US, such as President Bush's home state of Texas, capital punishment still has broad public support.

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