The Democratic Governor of Illinois, Pat Quinn yesterday (9 March 2011) signed into law a bill abolishing the death penalty in his state. The bill will take effect on 1 July , making Illinois the 16th state in the USA to reject capital punishment.
Governor Quinn also commuted the sentences of the 15 prisoners on death row to life imprisonment. The Governor had said that he personally supports the death penalty when properly implemented and would make a decision on the bill based on his conscience.
Speaking in the state capital, Springfield, Governor Quinn told reporters "we cannot escape history. I think it's the right, just thing to abolish the death penalty."
During its history, the State of Illinois has executed 360 prisoners. However, in recent times the death penalty has come under attack because innocent prisoners were being exonerated from death row more often than the guilty were being executed. Twenty prisoners were exonerated before the then Governor, George Ryan, commuted the sentences of 167 prisoners in 2003. Since that time, the state has carried out no executions. The legal charity Reprieve says that it has cost Illinois $112 million to put 15 people on death row.
The number of annual executions in the US has declined from a peak of 98 in 1999, to 46 in 2010, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Clive Stafford Smith, director of Reprieve said: “This is very welcome news for a state that was once a big advocate of the death penalty. Executing people wastes an enormous amount of money and achieves nothing positive.”