Posted by Edmond Geary | Posted in Murder, Wrongful Convictions | Posted on 24-03-2011
The State of Illinois has abolished the death penalty. Governor Pat Quinn signed the bill passed by the legislature in January. At the same time, he commuted the death sentences of 167 prisoners sitting on death row. Their sentences were commuted to life without parole.
Quinn was elected governor in 2009. During the campaign for election, he supported the death penalty when “applied carefully and fairly.” Only upon the announcement of his signing the bill did he reveal whether he would sign the legislature’s bill.
Governor Quinn’s own words explain his actions better than paraphrase. He said, among other things:
As a state, we cannot tolerate the executions of innocent people because such actions strike at the very legitimacy of a government. Since 1977, Illinois has seen 20 people exonerated from death row. Seven of those were exonerated since the moratorium was imposed in 2000. That is a record that should trouble us all. To say that this is unacceptable does not even begin to express the profound regret and shame we, as a society, must bear for these failures of justice.
Since our experience has shown there is no way to design a perfect death penalty system, free from the numerous flaws that can lead to wrongful convictions or discriminatory treatment, I have concluded that the proper action is to abolish it. With our broken system, we cannot ensure justice is achieved in every case. For the same reason, I have decided to commute the sentences of those currently on death row to natural life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole or release.
I have found no credible evidence that the death penalty has a deterrent effect on the crime of murder and that the enormous sums expended by the state in maintaining a death penalty system would be better spent preventing crime and assisting victims’ families in overcoming their pain and grief.
The debate in the legislature focused on more than a dozen death row prisoners who were found to have been wrongfully convicted, including one who was within 50 hours of execution. Opponents of the death penalty also focused on its costs. Legislators had help from well-known death penalty opponents like South African anti-apartheid leader Bishop Desmond Tutu and Sister Helen Prejean. Also among them were actor Martin Sheen, whose son has saturated the airwaves lately proving how much psychological help he needs by his exaggerated denials that he needs any help, intervention, or drug rehab.
Proponents of the death penalty focus on the victims’ families, argue fairness and claim it is a deterrent. Deterrent is an issue Governor Quinn addressed. Clear conclusions of cause and effect in human behavior issues like this are hard to come by. Each side insists their side is the intuitive, obvious path, but empirical proof is thin. Criminal defense lawyers will tell you that defendants in homicide cases think they will never be caught, if they had any thoughts about any penalty at all.
Fifteen other states have abolished capital punishment. Illinois is one of several states that have lately reconsidered the death penalty. New Jersey abolished it in 2007. New Mexico’s legislature abolished it in 2009, but there have been some efforts to reinstate there. Connecticut’s legislature passed a bill last year to abolish it, but the governor vetoed the bill.