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Former Indiana Gov. Shares Changed View of Death Penalty

March 4, 2005 | by Pat Vaughan Tremmel

Former Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan, a proponent of the death penalty, talked about how he now views capital punishment with much more apprehension and skepticism since he moved from the “bleachers” to the governor’s seat.

Kernan was the main speaker after the Chicago premiere of the A& E documentary “Countdown to an Execution,” hosted by the Center of Wrongful Convictions (CWC) at the School of Law.

Both the documentary and a panel that followed Kernan’s speech featured those who worked on the capital case of Darnell Williams, including CWS attorneys and students.

Williams was the first person in Indiana to have his death sentence commuted in 48 years, by Kernan, and his was the first case for which the state parole board recommended clemency.

The panel included Juliet Yackel, who has been working on Williams’ case since she graduated from law school, students from the Center on Wrongful Convictions, who (with CWC attorneys Jane Raley and Jeffrey Urdangen) assisted Yackel at the eleventh hour in saving Willliams’ life, and the lead prosecutor in the case, Thomas Vanes, who was outspoken on the law school panel as well as before the clemency board about flaws in the state’s case.

The documentary captured and then Kernan cited Juliet Yackel’s incredible determination to shine a light on serious questions about evidence that led to Williams’ death sentence as well as the assistance of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, whose students lost much sleep working on the case.

“Not everybody has that type of commitment,” Kernan said.

At the end of his term, Kernan also granted clemency to another man. In both cases, Kernan said, he took into consideration questions regarding the competency of counsel at the trial level, the politics that played into the case as well as the mitigating childhood experiences and mental health of both men.

“Today, I still support the death penalty but believe that it only should be used in the most serious of cases,” he said, such as for treason or taking the life of a police officer in the line of duty.

Produced by Tower Productions, Inc., “Countdown to an Execution” will be broadcast by A & E March 16.

Topics: Campus Life