Former inmates rally for abolishment of death penalty

By Amanda Murphy

Nathson Fields spent a total of 18 years in prison—11 of them on death row—for a double murder he did not commit. Because of the rulings of the convicted and corrupt former Chicago judge Thomas J. Maloney, Fields spent the majority of his life waiting to die in prison.

Fields, joined by fellow exonerated men and members of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, gathered on Feb. 15 outside the Thompson Center, 100 W. Randolph St., to tell their stories and support the abolishment of Illinois’ death penalty. Their protest was in reaction to Gov. Pat Quinn’s decision on Jan. 12 to reconsider capital punishment in Illinois.

“The death penalty does nothing to deter crime,” said Marlene Martin, board member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. “It is a barbaric practice carried out in the secrecy of night, pumping poison into people who are too poor to afford their

own lawyers.”

The Illinois Senate joined the House of Representatives on Jan. 11 in a 32-25 vote to repeal the state’s death penalty. Quinn will make the final decision to abolish capital punishment in Illinois, though he has yet to confirm his support for the bill. Passing the bill would make Illinois the 16th state without the death penalty. Quinn could not be reached to comment.

According to Fields, he and the other exonerated men would like to speak with Quinn before he finalizes a decision.

“We were the victims and we think it’s only fair the governor hear from us firsthand so he can know what we went through,” Fields said.

The Campaign to End the Death Penalty is asking Quinn to release the 15 prisoners currently on death row. There has not been an execution in Illinois since 1999, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The campaign would like the number to stay at zero.

Marvin Reeves, a Burge torture victim, spent 13 years on death row and said he wants the current prisoners up for capital punishment to be granted a new hearing.

“If the death penalty is to be repealed, then no one should have that sentence,” Martin said. “So, we are also asking the governor to commute all of the sentences.”

At the rally, other exonerated men told similar stories of decades spent in prison for crimes they were innocent of.

Darby Tillis, one of Illinois’ first exonerated death row prisoners, said although he was released more than 24 years ago, he is not free of the system’s effects.

“I spent nine years, one month and 17 days on death row waiting to die for a crime I did not commit,” Tillis said.

Illinois has the second highest number of exonerated individuals in the U.S., according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Since 1987, the state acquitted 20 prisoners from death row, which to Fields means there have been 20 near fatal, state-sanctioned mistakes in the criminal

justice system.

The wrongfully accused Gary Gauger’s time on death row for the murder of his parents in 1993 was shorter then most of the other exonerees.

However, he emphasized, the suffering he endured is irreversible.

“We want him to know the scars that have been left on us,” Fields said.

According to Gauger, most of the other exonerated men suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. During his nine months on death row, he said there were four prisoners killed by other prisoners, and five executions.

“I would like to see a general restructuring of the prison system to emphasize rehabilitation,” Gauger said.

The Campaign to End the Death Penalty stressed the effects the system has on family members as well.

Fields said he wants Quinn to know and understand the pain and suffering families go through.

“I watched my daughter grow up from death row,” Fields said. “I never had the chance to carry her on my back or hold her in my arms as a newborn child.”

He hopes Quinn will hear these stories and it will encourage him to repeal the bill.

“We as Americans believe in justice so now is the time for us to step up,” Reeves said.