Updated at: 1:35 pm on 01/09/11
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has abolished the state's death penalty. The Democrat signed legislation Wednesday abandoning capital punishment, two months after Illinois lawmakers voted to do the same and more than a decade after former Gov. George Ryan imposed a moratorium because of concern that innocent people could be put to death.
Quinn also commuted the death sentences of all 15 condemned inmates to life in prison without the possibility of release, as Ryan had before leaving office in 2003, commuting the sentences of 167 condemned inmates to life in prison. Quinn has spent the last two months consulting with prosecutors, victims' families, death penalty opponents and religious leaders.
In the past Quinn has said he personally supports the death penalty when properly implemented and would make a decision on the bill based on his conscience. He called abolishing the death penalty the "most difficult decision" he's made as governor, but stated that, "We have found over and over again mistakes have been made, innocent people have been freed. It's not possible to create a perfect, mistake-free death penalty system."
Quinn offered words of consolation to victims' families,explaining that the "family of Illinois" was with them, and that he understands they'll never be healed from what has happened to them. Prosecutors and some victims' families had urged Quinn not to abolish the death penalty, as did Illinois' Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who cited safeguards that are in place to prevent wrongful executions.
Leading anti-death penalty advocates say Illinois' move to abolish the death penalty is a turning point in the conversation on capital punishment nationwide, such as Kristin HoulDe, executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, who said "I think that it shows the national momentum towards repealing the death penalty and all the efforts lift efforts in states like Texas." Larry Cox, executive director for Amnesty International USA. agreed, saying that "No state has tried harder to fix its death penalty system, but after 10 years it became patently clear that it was broken beyond repair."
Illinois joins 15 other states and the District of Columbia without the death penalty. The new law takes effect July 1.