/ 12 January 2011

Illinois poised to abolish death penalty

Illinois was poised to become the first US state since 2009 to abolish the death penalty after the state senate approved the ban on Tuesday and sent it to Democratic Governor Pat Quinn for his signature.

The Senate vote came after House approval late last week. The Senate vote was 32-25.

Illinois has not executed anyone for more than a decade after former Republican Governor George Ryan imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in January 2000 following a series of revelations that people had been sent to death row who were later found to be innocent.

“We’ve had 20 innocent people on death row,” said Jeremy Schroeder, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty. “It’s time to be done with the moratorium and do the right thing.”

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have no death penalty. In 2009, New Mexico was the last state to abolish the practice. There have been no executions in Illinois since 1999. The number of executions in the US dropped 12% last year, according to the Death Penalty Information Centre.

Other states where legislation has been introduced to ban the death penalty include Colorado and Kansas.

Too many mistakes
But other states still use capital punishment. Oklahoma put to death on Tuesday a man convicted of murder whose execution date was put off several times, once by a debate over the drugs to be administered in the lethal injection.

Jeffrey David Matthews (38) was pronounced dead at 6.09pm on Tuesday at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Department of Corrections spokesperson Jerry Massie said.

The Illinois measure’s sponsor, State Senator Kwame Raoul, said that too many mistakes had been made in Illinois that sent innocent people to death row.

“We have an historic opportunity … to join the civilized world and end this practice of risking putting to death innocent people,” Raoul said before the vote.

Governor Quinn’s spokesperson, Annie Thompson, said the governor plans to review the legislation once it arrives at his desk. Quinn has said he supports the death penalty for the worst crimes. He has also said it is important that innocent people are not executed and that he would keep the moratorium in place.

State Senator Jeffrey Schoenberg, a Democrat who supported the ban, said he believes Quinn will “likely sign” the ban.

“We hope and expect that he will sign the Bill,” said Debra Erenberg, Midwest regional director of Amnesty International. “There has been a lot of movement away from the death penalty in recent years.” – Reuters