Illinois set to abolish death penalty
CHICAGO – Illinois was poised to become the first state since 2009 to abolish the death penalty after the state Senate approved the ban on Tuesday 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 measure’s sponsor, said that too many mistakes had been made in Illinois that sent innocent people to death row.
“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 the governor 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.”
Erenberg said she is glad that 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,” she 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 practice. 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.