Gov. Pat Quinn granted 179 clemency petitions in time for Christmas, but thousands of other applicants are anxiously awaiting word on past criminal records during the Democrat’s final weeks in office.
Quinn still faces roughly 3,000 requests with less than three weeks before Republican Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner takes office. Some want criminal records expunged. Others seek innocence pardons to clear their names. Advocates say the uncertainty with how Rauner will act — it’s the businessman’s first elected office — have given them a sense of urgency. But how far Quinn will get is unclear.
Among those waiting to hear is Gordon “Randy” Steidl. He wrongfully spent 17 years in prison — a dozen on death row — for the 1986 murder a young couple in Paris, Illinois. The Charleston man first filed for an innocence pardon in 2002. He said he wants to leave the past behind, but hasn’t heard anything.
“I’ve waited on three governors. I don’t suppose Rauner would be any better. Who knows?” he said. “I feel like my name needs to essentially be cleared and I can finally put this nightmare behind me. My children and grandchild deserve to have their name cleared.”
People often seek clemency to get more education or better jobs. Applications ask if the person has been convicted of a crime, not whether one was committed. Gubernatorial pardons also help grantees seek compensation from the state.
Quinn inherited a backlog of more than 2,800 petitions from predecessor ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Spokeswoman Katie Hickey said Quinn has mostly cleared those cases, and that an increase in applications accounts for lingering number.
Quinn has traditionally granted clemency ahead of holidays, leaving petitioners to anticipate Christmas and New Year’s Day. The wait was especially tedious on Wednesday — Christmas Eve — when there was a four-hour delay between the announcement of Quinn’s action and the list being made public.
The governor announced that he’d gone through 604 applications and denied 425 of them. Illinois Prisoner Review Board spokesman Ken Tupy said the denial list wouldn’t be public until applicants were notified by mail. The 179 grantees were for cases dating to 2008, for crimes including identity theft and robbery.
As for the Christmas Eve delay, Tupy said Quinn’s office didn’t immediately provide the list. Quinn’s office didn’t respond to multiple inquiries on the lag.
Still, Quinn has acted on nearly 4,000 cases during his six years as governor, far more than his recent predecessors. Blagojevich went through roughly 1,000, former Gov. George Ryan addressed nearly 1,750 and former Gov. Jim Edgar acted on roughly 1,400.
Part of Quinn’s challenge is more applicants.
Before Ryan’s tenure, roughly 350 petitions were filed annually, according to Tupy. That rose to about 1,000 after Ryan declared a moratorium on executions in 2003, and cleared death row by commuting the death sentences of more than 150 inmates to life in prison.
“It brought the clemency process into people’s minds,” Tupy said.
Quinn, who abolished the death penalty in 2011, has granted 1,418 petitions and denied 2,544 overall. Grantees can seek expungement of their convictions through the courts.
Hickey, his spokeswoman, said no governor has acted on more clemency requests while in office.
“Governor Quinn works on petitions as expeditiously as possible while ensuring that each case gets the thorough review it deserves,” she said.
Quinn’s track record is partly why attorneys with the University of Chicago’s Exoneration Project are pushing hard.
The group has lobbied for 51-year-old Tyrone Hood, who remains imprisoned for the 1993 shooting death of an Illinois Institute of Technology basketball player. Attorneys say evidence points to someone else, and Cook County prosecutors re-examined the case after a 2012 Chicago Tribune investigation. A January hearing has been scheduled.
“We don’t yet know how or in what way Gov. Rauner will act on the clemency requests,” said Hood’s attorney Gayle Horn.
Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf has said Rauner will carefully review clemency cases. He declined further comment.
Also waiting on Quinn is Wilder “Ken” Berry, who spent eight years in prison for a sexual assault the courts have cleared him of.
The Chicago father of two, who Quinn appointed in 2009 to serve on an Illinois Department of Corrections advisory board, wants a pardon based on innocence. He filed a petition in 2010.
“Even though I’ve been exonerated, it’s been the final piece to finish wrapping the Christmas present,” Berry said. “It’s like wrapping a gift and not having a bow on it.”