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Tuesday, 16 April, 2002, 00:05 GMT 01:05 UK
US panel urges death-penalty reforms
The interior of the death chamber at the U.S. Penitentiary south of Terre Haute, Indiana
Panel: The death penalty has been used too often
test hello test
By Martin Turner in Washington
line

A panel in the American state of Illinois has concluded that sweeping changes should be made to the process of capital punishment in the state.

It said it had been used too often since being reintroduced in 1977.


Supporters of the death penalty can no longer turn a blind eye to the problems that exist

National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
The report comes two years after the Governor of Illinois, George Ryan, halted executions because a number of prisoners on death row were found to be innocent.

Opponents of the death penalty have welcomed the report, calling it a turning point in the debate over the issue.

The panel's report runs to more than 200 pages, and reaches the conclusion that no system can provide an absolute assurance against a miscarriage of justice.

Given human nature and frailties, it says it is impossible to guarantee that an innocent person will not be sentenced to death.

Report welcomed

The panel recommends 85 ways to guard against unwarranted executions, including videotaping all questioning of suspects in capital cases, and changes to the way identification parades are conducted.

Illinois Governor George Ryan
Illinois Governor George Ryan announced a moratorium on state executions
The panel stopped short of calling for the abolition of capital punishment, saying it was outside its terms of reference.

But it said a narrow majority of its members believe the death penalty should be ended.

A spokesman for the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty called the publication of the report a historic day, and said opponents were hoping for a mass commutation of death sentences in the state.

The report's recommendations still have to be enacted by the state legislature, but they are certain to be carefully studied in the other 37 states that have the death penalty.

Opinion polls indicate that while two-thirds of Americans still support capital punishment, fears are increasing that innocent people could be put to death.

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The BBC's Martin Turner
"Opponents of capital punishment have welcomed the report"
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