Twenty-one and counting

Florida reached another milestone last week when Joseph N. Green became the 21st inmate released from death row since 1972 -- a number that far exceeds death-row exonerations in any other state in the country. Illinois is second with 13.

In Illinois, however, Gov. George Ryan -- a death-penalty advocate -- had the sense to place an indefinite moratorium on executing prisoners once he realized innocent people were sitting on death row. Earlier this month, Ryan commissioned 14 legal experts to review Illinois' execution process.

In Florida, meanwhile, Gov. Jeb Bush has taken the opposite tact. He has decided that since 75 percent of Florida death-penalty cases are overturned at the appellate level, he'd shortened the appeals time line. The Legislature agreed and passed a law allowing, in effect, executions within five years of sentencing.

Yet, as in Green's case, prisoners and their attorneys need more time -- not less -- to show when they have been railroaded. It's not as if the government can be easily trusted with something so precious as a life. The state's lone witness against Green -- who was convicted of a 1992 convenience-store murder -- had an IQ of 67, suffered from memory lapses, was legally drunk the night that he allegedly saw Green, and witnessed the shooting from a distance of 86 yards away.

"The scary thing in this case `is` we had no new evidence to present," says Jeffrey Leukel, Green's attorney.

Rather, Leukel relied on common sense to convince the Florida Supreme Court to throw out Green's conviction.

If only Leukel had the ear of Jeb Bush.

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