It has finally happened. We have a lot to be proud of here in Illinois. We’ve re-affirmed our humanity. Today, Governor Patrick Quinn has completed the long haul, started by disgraced former Governor George Ryan and a host of other, and signed into law, Senate Bill 3539 that abolishes the death penalty in Illinois.
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.
As a state, we cannot tolerate the executions of innocent people because such actions strike at the very legitimacy of a government. Since 1977, Illinois has seen 20 people exonerated from death row. Seven of those were exonerated since the moratorium was imposed in 2000. That is a record that should trouble us all. To say that this is unacceptable does not even begin to express the profound regret and shame we, as a society, must bear for these failures of justice.
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.
Governor Quinn’s statement makes me proud to be in the Land of Lincoln.