by Associated Press
April 4, 2002, 12:18 PM CST
Advocates for convicted murderer William Heirens argued for clemency today, saying he was the victim of overzealous police and prosecutors who were under intense pressure to solve three 1946 killings that rocked Chicago.
Two Northwestern University law professors who have taken up Heirens’ case told Illinois Prisoner Review Board that Heirens was railroaded for the murders of two women and a 6-year-old girl.
Steven Drizin of the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern said that Heirens’ case has "all the earmarks of a wrongful conviction." He asked the 13-member board to "right wrongs which the courts have failed to right."
Advocates for Heirens also say the 73-year-old is sick and is no threat to society. They say he gave a false confession under duress.
In December, three men imprisoned for 14 years for a 1986 rape and murder were ordered freed after the county’s chief prosecutor said there was no evidence against them. A fourth man convicted in the crime remains in prison on a theft conviction. Their clemency case is also before the board.
In addition, the death sentences of 13 people have been overturned since Illinois resumed capital punishment in 1977. In some cases, evidence showed they were innocent; in others, they received unfair trials.
Heirens was 17 when he was arrested for the slayings of the child, Suzanne Degnan, whose remains were found scattered through Chicago sewers, and of Josephine Ross and Frances Brown.
The killings received tremendous publicity at the time, with newspapers frequently mentioning the message, "Catch me before I kill more," found scrawled in lipstick on the bathroom mirror of one of the adult victims.
Colin Simpson testified on behalf of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, saying nothing has changed in the last 56 years.
"William Heirens was guilty of these murders in 1946, and he is just as guilty of these murders today," Simpson said.
The review board will make a recommendation to Gov. George Ryan, who will decide Heirens’ fate.