, Salem, MA

The Nation

March 10, 2011

Illinois abolishes death penalty, clears death row



New Jersey eliminated its death penalty in 2007. New Mexico followed in 2009, although new Republican Gov. Susana Martinez wants to reinstate it. In New York, a court declared the state's law unconstitutional in 2004.

Quinn's decision incensed many prosecutors and relatives of crime victims.

Robert Berlin, the state's attorney in DuPage County, west of Chicago, called it a "victory for murderers."

On Wednesday, Republican lawmakers immediately began discussing legislation for a new, narrower death penalty. They said safeguards added to the system — negotiated in part by President Barack Obama when he was a state senator — eliminated any real danger of executing an innocent person.

Republican Rep. Jim Durkin of Westchester predicted Quinn will pay a political price if he seeks re-election in four years. Some terrible murder that cries out for the death penalty is bound to occur and grab voters' attention, he said.

Quinn said he would oppose any attempt to reinstate a new version of the death penalty. He also promised to commute the sentence of anyone who might receive a death sentence between now and when the measure takes effect on July 1, a spokeswoman said.

The governor reflected on the issue for two months after the Democratic Legislature passed the abolition bill.

Quinn said he spoke with prosecutors, crime victims' families, death penalty opponents and religious leaders. He consulted retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and met with Sister Helen Prejean, the inspiration for the movie "Dead Man Walking.

A Gallup poll in October found that 64 percent of Americans favored the death penalty for someone convicted of murder, while 30 percent opposed it. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The high point of death penalty support, according to Gallup, was in 1994, when 80 percent were in favor. That's when doubts about Illinois' death penalty were growing steadily with each revelation of a person wrongly sentenced to die — people like Anthony Porter.

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