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Americas

Illinois is 16th state to axe death penalty

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-03-10

Illinois became the 16th US state to abolish the death penalty Wednesday, when Democrat Governor Pat Quinn signed the historic legislation. The change was voted for by state lawmakers two months earlier after a decade of debate on the subject.

AP - The governor of Illinois abolished the death penalty Wednesday, more than a decade after the state imposed a moratorium on executions out of concern that innocent people could be put to death by a justice system that had wrongly condemned 13 men.

Gov. Pat Quinn also commuted the sentences of all 15 inmates remaining on Illinois’ death row. They will now serve life in prison.
 
State lawmakers voted in January to abandon capital punishment, and Quinn spent two months reflecting on the issue, speaking with prosecutors, victims’ families, death penalty opponents and religious leaders. The Democrat called it the “most difficult decision” he has made as governor.
 
“I think if you abolish the death penalty in Illinois, we should abolish it for everyone,” the governor said.
 
Illinois’ moratorium goes back to 2000, when then-Republican Gov. George Ryan made international headlines by suspending executions. The Republican acted after years of growing doubts about the justices system and after courts threw out the death sentences of 13 condemned men.
 
Shortly before leaving office in 2003, Ryan also cleared death row, commuting the sentences of 167 inmates to life in prison. Illinois’ last execution was in 1999.
 
When the new law takes effect on July 1, Illinois will join 15 other states that have done away with the executions.
 
New Mexico had been the most recent state to repeal the death penalty, doing so in 2009, although new Republican Gov. Susana Martinez wants to reinstate it.
 
Quinn consulted with 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. Quinn’s own lieutenant governor, Sheila Simon, a former southern Illinois prosecutor, asked him to abolish capital punishment.
 
Twelve men have been executed in Illinois since 1977, when the death penalty was reinstated. The last was Andrew Kokoraleis on March 17, 1999. At the time, the average length of stay on death row for the dozen men was 13 years.
 
Kokoraleis, convicted of mutilating and murdering a 21-year-old woman, was put to death by lethal injection.
 
 

 

Date created : 2011-03-09

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