By Ruth E. Igoe
TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Tribune – October 4, 2000
The private investigator who videotaped a confession that freed Anthony Porter from Death Row in 1999 appeared before the Illinois Prison Review Board on Tuesday to recommend that the governor commute another death sentence for a man who has consistently proclaimed his innocence.
Paul Ciolino argued that Ronald Kliner’s 1996 conviction by a Cook County jury represents the worst of an inexact state capital-punishment system: A man who plotted to kill his wife struck a deal with prosecutors for a lighter sentence after implicating Kliner as the trigger man. Other witnesses included an estranged girlfriend who might have had motive to put Kliner in jail. No physical evidence linked Kliner with the crime.
“We all know wrongful convictions happen in this state,” Ciolino told the 12-member board, which examines such pleas and makes recommendations to the governor. “We know that in 13 previous cases in this state they made the ultimate mistake [with wrongful death-penalty convictions]. This is the 14th.”
Assistant State’s Atty. James Andreou responded that Ciolino was presenting evidence that was introduced during trial or previously was investigated by both sides.
“This is not any kind of wrongful conviction at all,” he told the board convened in the James R. Thompson Center. “Nothing you have heard today is new.”
Tuesday was the first time since Gov. George Ryan said in January that he was halting executions, pending further study and policy recommendations, that a capital punishment case has been up for a clemency hearing. Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1977, Illinois has put 12 prisoners to death and released 13 after evidence exonerated them.
Kliner was sentenced to death shortly after he was convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the shooting death of Dana Rinaldi, 28, a Palatine woman who was shot five times in the head as she drove into the apartment complex where she and her husband lived.
In June 1992, three men were charged, including her husband, who immediately confessed. In return for a lighter sentence, Joseph Rinaldi agreed to testify against his two friends, Kliner and former Chicago firefighter Michael Permanian.
Jurors also heard from other witnesses, including Kliner’s girlfriend, who said Kliner bragged about the shooting and re-enacted the crime for her.
While prosecutors recommended a 40-year sentence for Rinaldi’s testimony, a Cook County judge in 1996 gave him a 60-year term, the maximum term allowed. Permanian, who also maintained his and Kliner’s innocence, received an extended sentence of 75 years.
No date is set yet for Kliner’s execution. Several motions are making their way through the Cook County Circuit Court, Ciolino said, including one to grant Kliner a new trial.
Both Kliner’s and Dana Rinaldi’s parents attended the hearing. Rinaldi’s mother begged the board to let Kliner’s sentence stand.
“It’s been 12 1/2 years and we are waiting for the justice he deserves,” Betty Schwartz said in a wavering voice, her husband Don seated next to her.
Ciolino renewed his call for further DNA testing on hair fibers found inside the victim’s car after the killing. Although microscopic physical examinations before trial did not appear to match them to any of the three defendants, Ciolino said DNA testing might link them to the real killer. The private investigator also recalled a phone call Kliner made from his office 30 minutes before the shooting, which he said showed Kliner could not have been at the crime scene.
Andreou, however, rejected both arguments and noted that those issues had been raised before trial. Investigators for prosecutors traveled the route from Kliner’s office to the crime scene at exactly the same time of day, Andreou said, and found that Kliner would have had time to spare.