Gov. Pat Quinn discusses his decision to abolish the death penalty

March 10, 2011

Produced by Eight Forty-Eight

Download Story
(Getty/Win McNamee)
Illinois became the 16th state to ban capital punishment after Gov. Pat Quinn signed the abolition bill.
(WBEZ/Katie O'Brien)
Gov. Pat Quinn spoke to 'Eight Forty-Eight' the day after abolishing the death penalty in the state of Illinois.
(WBEZ/Katie O'Brien)
Gov. Pat Quinn sat down with host Alison Cuddy to discuss how he decided to end capital punishment in Illinois.
(WBEZ/Katie O'Brien)
Gov. Quinn spent two months conferring with experts before making his decision to end capital punishment in Illinois.
(WBEZ/Katie O'Brien)
Gov. Quinn told Alison Cuddy that he spent time reading the writings of the late Cardinal Bernardin while weighing his decision.
(WBEZ/Katie O'Brien)
Gov. Quinn's decision to abolish the death penalty made Illinois the 16th state to end capital punishment.

Since 2000, Illinois has had a moratorium on the death penalty. After two months of deliberation and a few strokes of a pen, Gov. Pat Quinn has done away with capital punishment in this state. He also commuted the death sentences of 15 prisoners – they’ll now serve life without parole.

Gov. Quinn joined Eight Forty-Eight to discuss this landmark legislation. Citing the January general assembly which passed the bill to abolish the death penalty before it reached his desk, Quinn spoke of his communion with his own conscience about this issue, while indicating a feeling of responsibility to see the bill through, saying, "If I changed even a comma on the bill, it would be dead." Noting that his opponent during his race for reelection in November, Senator Brady, wanted to lif t the moratorium on the death penalty put in place  by Govenor Ryan, Quinn again spoke of taking "a period of reflection, review and dialogue with the people of Illinois, prosecutors, families of the victims, as well as the general public on this issue. I thought that was a valuable exercise." He mentioned other conversations with moral leaders of different faiths, the teachings and writings of Cardinal Bernardin about what constitutes sufficient punishment, as well as readings in both the Old and New Testaments, as all being integral to his education on the issue. He also noted that retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, of Illinois, had struggled with this issue as well.

Quinn seemed to avoid speaking of the larger ramifications of his decision for the rest of the nation, focusing almost exclusively on Illinois. Noting that the law provides a fund for the the families of victims, as well as money to law enforcement to prevent further infractions, Quinn said, "Anyone who has committed a capital crime, I want to see them severely punished", and mentioned that Ilinois was hiring more prision guards.

In response to questions about his opponents on this issue, Quinn said, "There will be politicians who want to make this a political issue and try to reinstate it, but I don’t think that will happen." Speaking with Eight-Forty-Eight  by phone, States Attorney General Anita Alvarez expressed concerns that Governor Quinn had not fully considered the reforms that have been in place in the system since 2003. But supporters of the ban, such as Attorney Andrea Lyon, often called "The Angel of Death Row", expressed the great emotion she felt at seeing the bill pass. "Suddenly it hit me that I would never have to stand in a courtroom again in Illinois and beg for someone's life from a jury again," Lyon said of being at the press conference in Springfield on Wednesday. In ultimately making his decision, Gov. Quinn spoke of  being inspired by a portrait of President Lincoln in his office, and said he believed Lincoln would have made the same choice. In his words, the death penalty ban is "now the law of the land, in the land of Lincoln."