Illinois poised to abolish death penalty

CHICAGO Tue Jan 11, 2011 6:27pm EST

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Attorney General Lisa Madigan in Chicago, January 30, 2009. REUTERS/John Gress

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Attorney General Lisa Madigan in Chicago, January 30, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/John Gress

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Illinois was poised to become the first state since 2009 to abolish the death penalty after the state Senate on Tuesday approved the ban and sent it to Democratic Governor Pat Quinn for his signature.

The Senate vote came after House approval late last week. The Senate vote was 32-25.

Illinois has not executed anyone for more than a decade after former Republican Gov. George Ryan imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in January 2000 following a series of revelations that people had been sent to Death Row who were later found to be innocent.

"We've had 20 innocent people on Death Row," said Jeremy Schroeder, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty. "It's time to be done with the moratorium and do the right thing."

State Sen. Kwame Raoul, the current measure's sponsor, said too many mistakes had been made in Illinois.

"We have an historic opportunity... to join the civilized world and end this practice of risking putting to death innocent people," Raoul said before the vote.

Governor Quinn's spokeswoman, Annie Thompson, said he plans to review the legislation once it arrives at his desk. Quinn has said he supports the death penalty for the worst crimes. He has also said it is important that innocent people are not executed and that he would keep the moratorium in place.

State Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg, a Democrat who supported the ban, said he believes Quinn will "likely sign" the ban.

"We hope and expect that he will sign the bill," said Debra Erenberg, Midwest regional director of Amnesty International. "There has been a lot of movement away from the death penalty in recent years."

Among those freed from Illinois' Death Row after being found innocent were Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez, who were sentenced to death for raping and killing a 10-year-old Chicago area girl, Jeanine Nicarico. They stayed in prison for years even after another man, Brian Dugan, already in jail for raping and killing another girl and a woman, admitted to the crime.

Dugan has since been convicted of Nicarico's 1983 murder.

Other Illinois prisoners who were freed from Death Row said they were tortured into confessions by police.

Erenberg said she is glad the shooting deaths in Arizona over the weekend apparently did not turn Illinois senate votes away from the ban.

"In reality, repealing the death penalty allows for so many resources to be used to prevent crimes and to support victim's families after crimes," Erenberg said.

Opponents of lifting the ban include the Illinois State's Attorneys Association, which has said the death penalty is needed for law enforcement and to achieve justice.

Some senators who opposed the ban called for putting the question to Illinois voters.

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have no death penalty. In 2009, New Mexico was the last state to abolish the death penalty. There have been no executions in Illinois since 1999. The number of executions in the U.S. dropped 12 percent last year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Other states where legislation has been introduced to ban the death penalty include Colorado and Kansas.

(Editing by Greg McCune and Jerry Norton)

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Comments (6)
seriousfun wrote:
A great step to allow the United States of America to be pro-life and pro-human-rights.

Jan 11, 2011 5:20pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Robert76 wrote:
Okay, now all we have to do is to get the murderers to abolish their death penalties of their victims.

Amazing how the anti death penalty people are only against the death penalty being used on the criminals committing these crimes. When will they fight to stop murders from happening in the first place.

In Texas we had a convicted murderer in prison for life. He and a group of other criminals escaped prision and murdered a policeman who answered a call of a disturbance at a local sporting goods store. WE shall always wonder if that criminal had been put to death for his first murder, could this policeman’s death have been prevented?

Jan 11, 2011 5:42pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Econdemocracy wrote:
“Amazing how the anti death penalty people are only against the death penalty being used on the criminals committing these crimes When will they fight to stop murders from happening in the first place.”

This simply is not true, on either count. First, we are against both. If you are for victims rights, then you have to be against a law that victimizes the innocent (we have executed countless of people found innocent years or even decades later due to DNA or other evidence)

Second, the ones who fail to “Stop murders from happening in the first place” is EXACTLY the pro-death penalty (and pro “lock them up forever”) politicians who take the cheap, lazy, sleazy way out: pose are a real “Tough” politician when they are really avoiding the hard, tough, difficult work of preventing crimes in the first place, which I fully agree should be the top priority. Instead they do the easy thing, pose as “tough” and just increase penalties which does nothing (”gee, I was going to beat this person up or rob that bank despite 25 years in jail if I’m caught but not that it’s 40 years, I’m not going to do it” ha! what a laugh! as if that makes a difference)

If you’re for victims’ rights, stop supporting a law that history has shown cannot be given without “accidentally” sentencing people later proved innocent, to death, stop supporting the death penalty.

Let me answer another question you didn’t ask: Of COURSE part of me would want death to someone who killed a loved one. But guess what? Part of me would want them torn to shreds and Drawn and Quartered like in the middle ages..does that mean it is wise, sane, reasonable public policy to bring back Middle Ages torture and middle ages style executions? Of course not! I cannot blame someone in the midst of the most painful grief imaginable of loving a loved one, for having part of them want that or the death penalty, but just for the same reasons it is both wrong and horribly damaging and counter-productive to say “let’s bring back Middle Ages style torture/execution” the exact same reasons are why the pain and very real grief of family members is not an argument for the death penalty, either.

We strongly agree on one thing: focus #1 must be on preventing crimes. Not brushing that prevention under the rug so politicians can avoid that HARD work and do the easy “tougher on crime” punishments which (by definition) happened AFTER the fact, after it’s too late, after it already happened.

Jan 11, 2011 6:19pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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