(Reuters) - Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner said on Monday he is seeking to reinstate the death penalty for mass murder and killing a police officer, a move that comes when capital punishment nationwide is at lows not seen for about a quarter century.
Rauner, a Republican, said it would bolster public safety, adding defendants in death penalty cases would be tried using a higher standard for determining guilt.
“We are intent on avoiding wrongful convictions and the injustice of inconsistency,” he said.
Faulty prosecutions and a heavily publicized exoneration led then Republican Illinois Governor George Ryan in 2000 to impose a 10-year execution moratorium and in 2011 the state abolished capital punishment.
Even if lawmakers agree, it would be difficult for Illinois to resume executions due to a shortage of lethal injection drugs caused by a sales boycott by major pharmaceutical companies over ethical concerns.
Republican Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker this month told reporters he was in talks with lawmakers about reinstating the death penalty for those who kill law enforcement officers in the state.
The administration of Republican President Donald Trump has instructed federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty in drug-related cases whenever it is “appropriate,” to counter America’s epidemic of opioid abuse.
After the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, executions hit a peak of 98 in 1999. They have been trending down for the past decade and hit 23 last year, according to the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, which monitors U.S. capital punishment.
Even though 31 states still have the death penalty, only about a third have conducted executions in the past few years for reasons including the drug sales ban and legal battles that have halted executions.
Since 1973, about 160 people sent to death row nationwide have been exonerated, the death penalty center said.
Some conservatives have pushed to halt the death penalty, arguing it is a costly and inefficient bureaucratic program that runs counter to their core values of limited government.
“Illinois studied its death penalty for over a decade and rightfully determined that it was broken beyond repair. There is simply no good reason to bring it back, and doing so would run counter to conservative principles of fiscal responsibility, limited government, and the valuing life,” said Heather Beaudoin, national coordinator of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.
Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Lisa Shumaker