Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Prarie State Abolition!

Today I have signed Senate Bill 3539, which abolishes the death penalty in Illinois.
For me, this was a difficult decision, quite literally the choice between life and death. This was not a decision to be made lightly, or a decision that I came to without deep personal reflection.
Since the General Assembly passed this bill, I have met or heard from a wide variety of people on both sides of the issue. I have talked with prosecutors, judges, elected officials, religious leaders from around the world, families of murder victims, people on death row who were exonerated and ordinary citizens who have taken the time to share their thoughts with me. Their experiences, words and opinions have made a tremendous impact on my thinking, and I thank everyone who reached out on this matter.
After their guidance, as well as much thought and reflection, I have concluded that our system of imposing the death penalty is inherently flawed. The evidence presented to me by former prosecutors and judges with decades of experience in the criminal justice system has convinced me that it is impossible to devise a system that is consistent, that is free of discrimination on the basis of race, geography or economic circumstance, and that always gets it right.
That's the Honorable (and I mean sincerely) Pat Quinn, Governor of Illinois, explaining how he came to sign the legislation abolishing the death penalty in Illinois. (Here's the complete press release.)
Actually he did more.  The bill he signed wiped out the death penalty prospectively.  What of the 15 men on death row?  He commuted their sentences.
This is, of course, the second time that an Illinois governor has emptied death row.  George Ryan did it about 11 years ago.  First, his moratorium stopped the killing.  Then he commuted the sentences of  almost 170 men and women (granting full pardons to 4 of them).  But while the moratorium stayed in place, the row repopulated.
And there are, maybe, ripples.
Serious hearings on abolition are going on in Connecticut right now, where the legislature voted abolition a couple of years ago but the governor vetoed.  This governor will sign if a bill gets to him.
In Montana, the state Senate just voted an abolition bill.  It's now up to the house and the governor.
All of which leads to an important point.  
New Mexico has 2 people on death row.  (Governor Richardson did not empty the row when he signed that state's abolition bill.)  It had executed only 1.  New Jersey had only 10 people on its death row and hadn't killed anyone for decades.  Connecticut has 11 on the row, and the only person it killed was an assisted suicide.  Montana has 2 on the row and has killed 3.
But Illinois has been a major death penalty state.  Executed 12 before the moratorium.  Placed significant numbers on the row, 15 since Ryan emptied it.  Abolition there is bigger because the death penalty is bigger.  
Meanwhile, though, there's Ohio.
Johnnie Baston is to be murdered tomorrow morning.  They've fiddled the protocol a bit this week, but that won't stop the killing.  
It will be number 43 for the Buckeyes.
The second this year.  
Eight more scheduled before the year is out.  
Two already lined up for 2012.
Governor Quinn, again.
Since our experience has shown that there is no way to design a perfect death penalty system, free from the numerous flaws that can lead to wrongful convictions or discriminatory treatment, I have concluded that the proper course of action is to abolish it. With our broken system, we cannot ensure justice is achieved in every case. For the same reason, I have also decided to commute the sentences of those currently on death row to natural life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole or release.
I have found no credible evidence that the death penalty has a deterrent effect on the crime of murder and that the enormous sums expended by the state in maintaining a death penalty system would be better spent on preventing crime and assisting victims’ families in overcoming their pain and grief.
. . .

As Governor, I took an oath to uphold our state’s Constitution and faithfully execute our laws. Honoring that oath often requires making difficult decisions, but I have found none to be as difficult as the one I made today. I recognize that some may strongly disagree with this decision, but I firmly believe that we are taking an important step forward in our history as Illinois joins the 15 other states and many nations of the world that have abolished the death penalty.
Good for him.
Ultimately, good for all of us.

1 comment:

  1. Then they'd better do things right if they are going to condemn people to death. Of course, real effort takes time and, far far worse, MONEY. It's cheaper to send 'em to the chair, needle, oven, whatever in some cases. Everything today is about doing things cheaper; not taking the time to do a good job or even admitting fault.