Illinois votes to Abolish the Death Penalty

posted Jan 11, 2011, 1:37 PM by Kathryn Hamoudah   [ updated Aug 31, 2012, 8:29 AM by GFADP staff ]

It is with great joy that we write to tell you that the Illinois Senate voted to repeal the death penalty just moments ago with a vote of 32-25!

Governor Quinn is expected to sign the bill.

We send a huge congratulations to the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty for their extraordinary work and to Equal Justice USA, The National Coalition to Abolish the death penalty and the many individuals you offered their support!

Here's to Illinois for joining the ranks of the other states who have said NO to the death penalty!

Below is a report from the Chicago Tribune.

The Senate vote was 32 for, 25 against, with 2 voting present.

January 11, 2011 | updated at 2:58 p.m.


Illinois death penalty ban sent to Gov. Pat Quinn

By Todd Wilson and Ray Long at 11:05 a.m

SPRINGFIELD --- A historic measure to abolish the death penalty in Illinois passed the state Senate today after nearly two hours of impassioned debate.


The ban on executions goes to Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who must sign the legislation for it to become law. During last fall's campaign, Quinn said he supports "capital punishment when applied carefully and fairly," but also backs the 10-year-old moratorium on executions.


The Senate voted 32-25 to approve the ban, with two members voting present. The measure passed the House last week.


Sponsoring Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, urged his colleagues to “join the civilized world” and end the death penalty in Illinois.


Raoul spoke of how authorities were certain when they prosecuted Jerry Hobbs and Kevin Fox for killing their own little girls. Both confessed under coercion and both were exonerated by DNA evidence. The senator spoke of is 10-year-old daughter and how he could not imagine what a wrongly accused father would go through.


Illinois “ought to be embarrassed” by its track record of wrongful convictions, Raoul said, “because if an execution were to take place, it takes place in the name of the people of Illinois.”


Sen. John Millner, R-Carol Stream, a former Elmhurst police chief with experience of interviewing more than 1,000 defendants, called for making more reforms to the system before eliminating the death penalty. He also called for more training of police officers, including how to avoid false confessions.


“I ask you all, please,” Millner said, to consider a crime victim’s families.


Sen. Willie Delgado, D-Chicago, a former parole agent, cited how he worked in the attorney general’s office when the wrongful convictions of Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez were examined.


“Ladies and gentlemen, the system is broken,” Delgado said. He maintained “death is too good for some folks” and said they should be allowed to sit in prison for natural life, where they can “rot and think about what they have done.”


Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican who worked on death penalty reforms now in place, said the people of his district believe in executions for mass murderers and killers of police, prison guards and children.


“I think there’s still a place for the death penalty for the worst of the worst of our society,” Dillard said.


Dillard and Sen. Bill Haine, an Alton Democrat and former Madison County state’s attorney, called for putting the question before Illinois citizens.


But Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, said lawmakers are elected to make the tough decisions, and she called on colleagues said Illinois should break company with Afghanistan, China, Iran, Iraq, Congo,  Saudi Arabia and other countries that allow the death penalty.


“We’re here because we’ve seen countless examples of the fact that the system has failed,” Hutchinson said. “This question is not about the people who we know did it. It’s about the people who were convicted who didn’t. It’s about our system of justice is actually predicated upon the protection of the innocent and executing one innocent person is too high a price to pay.”


Sen. Dan Duffy, R-Lake Barrington, argued that 20 people sent to Death Row in Illinois have been exonerated and the taxpayer costs have been too great to be left with an ineffective and expensive use of scarce resources.


“What we have learned after all this time is that the system cannot be fixed,” Duffy said.


Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, D-Evanston, said he has long prayed over the death penalty issue but that the system in Illinois “is not marginally flawed. It is irretrievable broken.”


Posted earlier...


The action comes 10 years after then-Gov. George Ryan placed a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois following revelations that several people sent to Death Row were later exonerated.


Quinn has not said whether he would sign the ban, but during last year's campaign said the moratorium should stay in place to see whether reforms have worked.

Gordon “Randy” Steidl, who spent 17 years in prison, including 12 on Death Row, after he was wrongfully convicted of a 1986 double-murder, pleaded with the committee to end a death penalty system in Illinois that could have had him executed.


"How can you possibly give the power of life and death to a prosecutor, who even if he does everything correctly, there's still that possibility that you’re going to strap an innocent person to a gurney?” Steidl said. “And we know we have in this country, we know we have executed innocent people in the past. The problem is, after they’re executed, the state no longer cares. The evidence is there, we have an alternative, and that's life without parole and we do not risk the possibility of executing an innocent person. Because you know sooner or later if we have this system we will."


The panel voted in favor of the proposal despite concerns raised by opponents who cited the need for the death penalty to be in place. They pointed to the shooting of a congresswoman in Arizona over the weekend and murder of six people, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl. The vote in Springfield also comes against the backdrop of six Chicago policemen killed over the last year.


Sen. William Haine, a former Madison County state’s attorney, argued fervently to keep the death penalty in place.


"To call for perfection necessarily involves speculation about a future faulty case.” Haine argued. “We have in our hands 15 cases of the worst on Death Row now. … Fifteen muderers, that's not speculation. The people of Illinois should be a part of this and we should not be removing what they believe is justice."


Sponsoring Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, said he has confidence that Quinn will come around and sign the bill once he hears from Steidl and other wrongfully convicted former Death Row inmates.


Outside of the hearing room, Raoul choked up and his eyes welled up as he talked about the historic breadth of the legislation, particularly in a state where unethical means have been used to squeeze defendants into false confessions.


“It’s an emotional debate,” Raoul said, his voice breaking as he took several seconds to gather himself. “I talk to my kids and their friends in their school about this. My kids attend Catholic school, and they get their values-based education, and they understand it better than some adults do.”


Thirty-five states now have the death penalty, and Illinois would become the 16th state to not have the death penalty if Illinois approved abolishing it. Three other states — New York, New Jersey and New Mexico — have eliminated the death penalty in recent years, according to the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.


Before last week, no abolition legislation had passed either house in Illinois since executions were reinstated in 1977. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down death penalty guidelines in 40 states, including Illinois, in 1972.


Support for abolishing executions in Illinois has grown since Ryan declared the moratorium. His action followed a Tribune series that pointed out flaws and inequities in the prosecution and defense of Illinoisans facing a death sentence and the exoneration of several people placed on Death Row.


Illinois followed up with a number of steps to reform the death penalty process, including taping interrogations under a proposal forged by President Barack Obama when he served in the Illinois Senate. More money was made available to help provide resources to beef up the defense of alleged offenders in death penalty cases, but the millions of dollars being spent raised additional questions.


Only days before he left office in January 2003, Ryan granted clemency to 164 Death Row inmates even though sources on the Illinois Prisoner Review Board said the panel recommended clemency for no more than 10.


There are 15 people on Death Row in Illinois, officials said.