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The Nation

March 10, 2011

Illinois abolishes death penalty, clears death row

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — For a mother who lost her son to violence, Illinois' decision to abolish the death penalty is a betrayal. But to a father who lost two daughters and a grandson, it's simply the Christian thing to do.

And to a man who was sentenced to die for a crime he didn't commit, it's a civilized step that may inspire other states to halt executions.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's signature on legislation getting rid of the death penalty provoked an extraordinary array of emotions Wednesday — almost all of them intense.

A Chicago woman whose teenage son was gunned down in 2006 said the killer, who has never been caught, should not be allowed to breathe the same air she breathes.

"I am a Christian. I never believed in killing nobody else," Pam Bosley said, explaining her change of heart after her son was shot outside a church. "But the pain you suffer every single day, I say take them out."

Charles Simmons knows that pain. The Peoria resident lost three relatives in a house fire that prosecutors say was arson. But Simmons said his religious beliefs argue against executing the killer — plus, he considers life in prison a harsher punishment.

"He knows he's not getting off easy," Simmons said. "He's not going to leave us, you know. He's got to walk every day in jail, eat, face people in there."

When the abolition law takes effect July 1, Illinois becomes the 16th state without a death penalty.

Most nations, including virtually all of Europe, have abandoned the death penalty. Among the 58 that still use it, according to Amnesty International, are the United States, China, Thailand, Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Japan.

Quinn's action capped two decades of argument and soul-searching over the possibility that Illinois would wind up executing an innocent person.

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