Ill. Gov. George Ryan and DePaul Law Professor Andrea Lyon at DePaul Jan. 10, 2003
Madison Hobley's sister Robin Hobley Reacts
Illinois Gov. George Ryan revealed his plan to pardon four prisoners awaiting execution on the state’s Death Row and two other men before a standing-room-only crowd at DePaul University’s College of Law in Chicago Jan. 10.
“Today, I shall be a friend to Madison Hobley, Stanley Howard, Aaron Patterson and Leroy Orange,” Ryan said to a standing ovation. “Today, I am pardoning them of the crimes for which they were wrongfully prosecuted and sentenced to die.”
Hobley, 42, was represented by DePaul Law Professor Andrea Lyon and DePaul law alumnus Kurt Feuer, who is a partner in the law firm Ross & Hardies. Hobley's appeals were aided by a team of the university’s law students. Members of the Hobley family were in the classroom where the governor announced the pardon, and his sister burst into tears when her hopes for clemency were confirmed.
Ryan made the decision public on his last full business day in office, two years after he imposed a historic moratorium on executions in Illinois to correct flaws in a system that has since exonerated 13 inmates formerly on Death Row. “What does it take? Now that we can say the number of wrongfully convicted men is not 13, but it is 17, will that be enough?” he asked.
Ryan also announced that he had cleared two other men: Miguel Castillo, who spent 11 years incarcerated for a murder he could not have committed because he was behind bars for a different crime, and Gary Dotson, who was imprisoned for 12 years on a false rape charge. DNA evidence has since proven his innocence. Dotson was already free from prison, but the governor’s action officially cleared his name.
The event was hosted by DePaul’s Center for Justice in Capital Cases (CJCC), which represents Hobley. Lyon, who founded the CJCC, fought for Hobley’s freedom for more than a decade.
“Justice has been served today,” Lyon said after Ryan's announcement. “Gov. Ryan should be commended for taking a stand for Madison Hobley and the five other men he pardoned.”
The announcement at DePaul came one day before the governor granted a blanket clemency for the remaining inmates on death row during a Jan. 11 speech at Northwestern University School of Law. The governor commuted the death sentences of 164 inmates to life in prison without parole and reduced the sentences of three others to 40 years. Lyon and Hobley, who was released from prison the evening of Jan. 10, attended the speech at Northwestern, where Ryan praised Lyon’s efforts. “It is also proper that we are together with dedicated people like Andrea Lyon who has labored on the front lines trying capital cases for many years and who is now devoting her passion to creating an innocence center at DePaul University,” the governor said. “You saved Madison Hobley’s life.”
Hobley and his family have been seeking justice since his 1990 conviction for setting a 1987 fire that killed seven people, including his wife and toddler. Defenders contend he was tortured into confessing by a notorious Chicago police commander and that his conviction was based on questionable “witness” testimony and the presence of a gas can that could not have retained its pristine condition had it been involved in the fire.
During his speech at DePaul, the governor said: “Madison’s trial lawyers had no idea that the testimony of this witness was tainted. Nor did they know that a gasoline can introduced into evidence during his trial was not used to start the fatal fire, but rather had been seized earlier at another, unrelated fire. That’s because his lawyer and investigator, Andrea Lyon and her team, and Paul Ciolino, uncovered this new evidence.”
Ryan advised the roomful of students: “Realize the tremendous opportunity it is to be allowed to practice law. Realize the tremendous power that you have to do good.
"Remember, whether you are a prosecutor or a defender, that when you step into a courtroom, you should be engaged in a passionate search for the truth, rather than a zealous pursuit of a victory for victory’s sake. Lives hang in the balance.”
He said he had not planned on becoming a champion for reforms on capital punishment, and yet that is what he has become. “I think you, too, will see many twists and turns in the road ahead of you. I can’t say that I would wish upon you the experience I have faced in this process. But remember each day that you live, your experience will prepare you for a challenge you may not foresee. Grab it with gusto, and fight for justice.”
The governor decried as “arbitrary and capricious” a system in which “you can be charged with murder in one county and get life and another county and get death.”
He pledged to stay active in the fight to repair Illinois’ justice system, indicating he would work with the General Assembly to pass a reform package. “If we don’t have a system that works, then we shouldn’t have a system,” he said. “It’s like flipping a coin, heads or tails, live or die.”
He also urged Gov.-elect Rod Blagojevich to “pick up where I am leaving off.”
Lyon said there is much that remains to be done on this issue. “The Center for Justice in Capital Cases at DePaul will continue to work on behalf of those facing death, while training new lawyers how to provide the best defense possible in capital cases. It is my hope that the new governor will continue what Gov. Ryan has started and that one day soon, we can approach Gov. Ryan’s vision of justice in Illinois,” said Lyon.
Members of Patterson’s family were in attendance for the announcement at DePaul, as was Rolando Cruz, one of the 13 previously exonerated men.
DePaul Professor Leonard Cavise represents yet another Death Row inmate, Ronald Barrow, who was convicted of the 1984 murder of Joseph O’Berto in LaSalle County. Cavise contends that Barrow had poor legal representation and faced prosecutorial misconduct and unreliable witness testimony during his trial. Barrow was among the men whose sentences were commuted from death to life in prison Jan. 11.
DePaul is the nation’s largest Catholic university, with 23,377 students and a mission that emphasizes academic excellence, community service, access to education and social justice.
Text of Gov. Ryan's Speech at DePaul University Jan. 10, 2003
Transcript of Gov. Ryan's Speech at Northwestern University Jan. 11, 2003