Illinois abolishes the death penalty

After two months of deliberation, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn (D) has signed legislation to abolish the death penalty in that state:

Quinn called this the hardest decision he has had to make as governor, but one he felt was required.

“If the system can’t be guaranteed 100 percent error-free, then we shouldn’t have the system,” Quinn said. “It cannot stand.”

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He also said capital punishment was too arbitrary. A prosecutor in one county might seek the death penalty, while another prosecutor dealing with a similar crime might not, he said. And death sentences might be imposed on minorities and poor people more often than on wealthy, white defendants.

Quinn commuted the sentences of all 15 men remaining on death row. They will now serve life in prison with no hope of parole.

The article reports that “twenty people have been freed from death row after evidence surfaced to show they were innocent or had been convicted improperly,” prompting former Governor George Ryan, a Republican, to issue a moratorium on executions in Illinois in 2000. They are now the 16th state in the U.S. without the death penalty, though some legislators are considering reintroducing it with narrower restrictions and safeguards that they say will eliminate “any real danger of executing an innocent person.”

According to a Gallup poll last October, “64 percent of Americans favored the death penalty for someone convicted of murder, while 30 percent opposed it” — down from 80 percent support in 1994.


  • Margaret Cabaniss

    Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at

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