Local Column

Olson: Don't wish for death penalty's return

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Eric Olson[]

We should be willing to accept that Carl Reimann is still alive, if it means that Rolando Cruz is, too.

Reimann, formerly of Sandwich, was granted parole last week, more than 45 years after he murdered five people while robbing a Yorkville restaurant, only sparing the lives of a family who had stopped to eat there because his pistol was out of bullets.

It was a heinous crime, and under modern criminal law, Reimann would have no chance at freedom. But criminals are punished according to the laws at the time they commit a crime, and before Illinois’ truth-in-sentencing law, Reimann was eligible for parole despite receiving five 50- to 150-year sentences for the murders.

Now 77, Reimann is living in a home in La Grange near an elementary school.

This news caused many people to lament that Reimann hadn’t been injected with poison, shot, hanged, electrocuted or drawn and quartered years ago.

If only the state of Illinois had the gumption to kill, those people said, we could pass final judgment on people like this and be done with them.

This made the timing ideal for Christopher Heimerman’s story about Cruz in Friday’s Daily Chronicle.

Cruz is 54 and lives in Sycamore, where he is raising children, working at the Target Distribution Center and trying to help people in the criminal justice system, both criminals and victims.

If the death penalty system worked the way some would like, he never would have made it this far. Cruz was sentenced to death not once but twice, for a murder he didn’t commit. He spent a decade on death row, and thank goodness the death penalty system was so ineffective – otherwise we would have killed an innocent man.

Police and prosecutors were so eager to see Cruz executed that they disregarded the confession of Brian Dugan, who insisted he alone had kidnapped and murdered Janine Nicarico, a 10-year-old Naperville girl, in 1983. Dugan’s confession wasn’t admitted into evidence at Cruz’s second and third death penalty trials. DNA evidence that excluded Cruz wasn’t enough to dissuade prosecutors, either.

Cruz told Heimerman that he didn’t enjoy being thrust into the political spotlight by death penalty opponents after his release. He said it made him feel like being an animal in a zoo, kind of like how he felt on death row.

Makes sense. Cruz said he aspired to do fender and auto body work, not political activism.

I found Cruz’s story about who he is today very interesting, and thank him for sharing it with us. He’s a neighbor we would not have if Illinois was truly committed to the death penalty.

It’s a good thing we’re not, even if it means the Carl Reimanns of the world die old men in their beds.

• Eric Olson is general manager of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.