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June 20, 2000

Governor Ryan Calls for DNA Testing Funds to Protect the Innocent

WASHINGTON -- Governor George H. Ryan today called for increased federal funding for DNA testing to help Illinois and other states ensure that only the guilty are convicted in testimony at the House Judiciary Committee Hearings on the Innocence Protection Act.

The Innocence Protection Act, sponsored by U.S. Representatives Ray Lahood (R-IL) and William Delahunt (D-Mass.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy, (D-Vt.), proposes a comprehensive package of criminal justice reforms aimed at reducing the risk that innocent people will be executed. In his testimony, Governor Ryan discussed why he declared a moratorium on executions in Illinois after 13 people were exonerated of crimes for which they had been sentenced to death.

Governor Ryan said five of the exonerated Illinois Death Row inmates were cleared by DNA evidence. The Innocence Protection Act would increase access to DNA testing for state and federal defendants in capital cases.

Noting that Illinois has been at the forefront of forensic science testing, the Governor stated his support for the National Forensic Science Improvement Act and for a measure to help states eliminate DNA evidence backlogs. It would create $768 million in block grants over 5 years to help improve the quality, availability and timeliness of forensic services across the country. The act would provide funds to improve crime labs and to train technicians and scientists.

Governor Ryan also endorsed a measure passed by the House Judiciary Crime Subcommittee last week to help states begin to clear the extensive DNA backlog that exists throughout the nation -- a proposed $50 million over 5 years to help states process their backlogged DNA evidence.

"In Illinois, these block grants could help us catch up with a TEN MONTH backlog of cases from Chicago and across the state of Illinois. That is a backlog of 2,500 cases," Governor Ryan said. "That means investigators can't match evidence from unsolved crimes against updated records. That means, in some cases, innocent people are sitting in jail waiting for the evidence that clears them to be processed by the crime lab.

"It also means some criminals continue to walk the streets," Governor Ryan said.

Governor Ryan said the funds from the National Forensic Science Improvement Act could be used to help continue to convert the existing Chicago and Illinois State Police forensic and suspect files to the national DNA database.

While he continues to believe the death penalty can be a proper societal response for heinous crimes, a view he believes many people still hold, he believes people share his concerns about the administration of the death penalty.

"I also believe there is a deep wellspring of fairness in the people of Illinois and in the United States of America. They want a system that is fair, that will not convict and execute the innocent," Governor Ryan said. "It is in that spirit of fairness and justice that I believe the Innocence Protection Act was introduced."


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