Clemency for Daniels OK'd by the court

Clemency for Daniels OK'd by the court

SPRINGFIELD – Former Gov. George Ryan's commutation of Eric Daniels' death sentence to life in prison was valid, even though Daniels never signed his petition for clemency, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled Friday.

Daniels, now 29, was convicted of the 1993 rape and murder of Michelle Davis, a night clerk at the now-demolished Charter House Inn on North Cunningham Avenue in Urbana.

He has maintained that he did not do it.

Daniels was one of about two dozen death row inmates included on a blanket petition filed by the Northwestern University School of Law and the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Chicago Law School.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan challenged whether those commutations were proper, since the offenders had failed to personally sign the clemency petitions as required by statute. Her case also challenged the commutations of a group of defendants who were awaiting sentencing hearings at the time Ryan granted them clemency.

In an opinion issued Friday morning, the Supreme Court held that the governor had the power to grant clemency to both groups of inmates.

"Although the Supreme Court was of the view that the clemency power ought to be exercised on an individual basis, rather than in a blanket fashion, the court found that the governor had acted within the broad powers granted to him by the Constitution of Illinois," the opinion said.

Champaign County State's Attorney John Piland disagreed with the ruling.

"This is another kick in the teeth for the family of Michelle Davis," Piland said. "The Constitution of Illinois says the manner of applying for commutation is to be regulated by law, and the law says that an application for executive clemency may not be commenced on behalf of a person who has been sentenced to death without the written consent of the defendant, unless the defendant, because of mental or physical condition is incapable of asserting his own claim."

But the Supreme Court held that the governor's power to grant clemency is not diminished by statutory regulation of the process of applying for it.

Charles Schiedel, deputy defender with the Office of the State Appellate Defender, said the decision was good news.

"I'm glad that (Daniels) is not going to be back on death row."

But Schiedel is still working to get Daniels a new trial and hopes to clear him entirely.

The Daniels case has had a long and bumpy history.

He was tried three times, first in Champaign County in 1994. The guilty verdicts and death sentence were later overturned on appeal when the Supreme Court found the defense was not allowed enough juror challenges. Daniels was retried in 1997 in Cook County, but that jury could not come to a verdict on the murder and rape charges.

In the third trial, held in Will County, Daniels was found guilty and sentenced to death. That case was on appeal before the Illinois Supreme Court when Ryan ordered the commutations.

Daniels believes he did not get a fair trial in Will County and hopes to be granted yet another new trial, Schiedel said.

While capital cases are appealed directly to the Supreme Court, other criminal convictions must first be appealed at the Appellate Court level.

Since the commutation was upheld Friday, Daniels' appeal will probably move to the 4th District Appellate Court now, Schiedel said.

Daniels is currently serving a 95-year prison term at Menard Correctional Center for attempted murder, armed violence and possession of contraband stemming from a May 2000 attack on Craig Morrison, a correctional officer at the Champaign County jail. He was convicted of stabbing Morrison in the face 11 times with a handmade knife.

Ryan's decision to grant blanket commutations to more than 160 death row inmates last January spared not only Daniels, but three other area offenders.

William Brad Kirchner, now 34, was convicted of the August 1997 slayings of Charles Brewer, 69; his wife, Doris Jean Brewer, 65; and their 37-year-old daughter Bonnie Brewer. The Brewers were brutally stabbed in their home in the small Douglas County community of Garrett.

Kirchner had been sentenced to death, but is now serving a life sentence in Stateville Correctional Center.

Former University of Illinois football player Harry Gosier, now 42, was sentenced to death for the 1988 murders of his mother-in-law, Mae Halcrombe, 44, and her daughter, Soynda Halcrombe, 23, in their west Champaign home. Gosier also admitted raping Soynda and her sister, Gosier's estranged wife, Lesia.

Gosier and Lesia's daughter, India, then 3 years old, witnessed most of the crimes.

Gosier, who had been on death row, is now serving a life sentence in Stateville.

Charles Silagy was sentenced to die for stabbing his girlfriend, Cheryl Jo Block, and her roommate, Anne Budde Walters, to death in Danville on Valentine's Day 1980.

Silagy, 53, is now serving a life sentence at Menard Correctional Center.

You can reach Kate Clements at (217) 782-2486 or via e-mail at kclements@news-gazette.com.

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