Lawmakers: Ill. governor to abolish death penalty
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
CHICAGO (AP) — Gov. Pat Quinn intends to abolish the death penalty in Illinois, two sponsors of the legislation said Tuesday.
State Rep. Karen Yarbrough and state Sen. Kwame Raoul told The Associated Press that Quinn’s staff invited them to a signing ceremony Wednesday morning in the governor’s Springfield office.
“It’s going to happen,” Raoul said.
Quinn’s office declined to comment Tuesday about his intentions. He has said he personally supports the death penalty when properly implemented and would make a decision on the bill based on his conscience.
The Chicago Democrat would thrust the state back into the national debate over capital punishment by signing the legislation, which would add Illinois to the list of 15 other states and the District of Columbia without the death penalty. The new law would take effect July 1.
“I’ve heard from many, many people of good faith and good conscience on both sides of the issue. And I’ve tried to be very meticulous and writing down notes and studying those notes and books and e-mails. They’ve really spoken from the heart. I’ve been very proud of the people of Illinois,” Quinn said recently.
Illinois’ last execution was in 1999, a year before then-Republican Gov. George Ryan imposed a moratorium on capital punishment after the death sentences of 13 men were overturned.
Ryan cleared death row before leaving office in 2003 by commuting the death sentences of 167 inmates to life in prison.
If Quinn were to sign the bill, it unclear what he’d do about the 15 inmates currently on Illinois’ death row.
New Mexico was the most recent state to repeal the death penalty, in 2009, but new Republican Gov. Susana Martinez wants to reinstate it.
Quinn has consulted with prosecutors, murder victims’ families, death penalty opponents and religious leaders since Illinois lawmakers approved the bill in January. The governor even heard from retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and met with Sister Helen Prejean, the inspiration for the movie “Dead Man Walking.”
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan appealed directly to Quinn to veto the bill, as did several county prosecutors and victims’ families. They said safeguards, including videotaped interrogations and easier access to DNA evidence, were in place to prevent innocent people from being wrongly executed.
But death penalty opponents argued that there was still no guarantee that an innocent person couldn’t be put to death. Even Quinn’s own lieutenant governor, Sheila Simon, a former southern Illinois prosecutor, asked him to abolish capital punishment.
Prosecutors would still be able to seek the death penalty and juries could still impose it until the law took effect.
Associated Press writer John O’Connor in Springfield contributed to this report.