Illinois Abolishes Death Penalty; 16th State to End Executions

Activists see turning point against capital punishment.

ByABC News
March 9, 2011, 2:08 PM

March 9, 2011— -- In a ceremony behind closed doors today Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill that will make Illinois the 16th state to abolish the death penalty.

"I have concluded that our system of imposing the death penalty is inherently flawed," said Quinn in a statement issued after the signing.

"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," he said.

It has been 11 years since a death sentence has been carried out in the state. In 2000, then Republican Gov. George Ryan, ordered a moratorium on executions fearing that the Illinois' death penalty system might be at risk of executing the innocent. Ryan had been an ardent supporter of the death penalty, but changed his mind when he saw a rising number of exonerations of death row inmates in Illinois courts.

Foes of the death penalty had urged Quinn to sign a law to abolish the executions completely.

The issue has been politically delicate for Quinn who has always said that he supports the death penalty, but he's been concerned about how the system works.

The state legislature passed the ban in January, and the governor had put off signing it to listen to voices on both sides.

Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and the families of murder victims encouraged the Governor to keep the most severe penalty on the books.

A group of men wrongfully convicted, who were cleared from death row when Ryan issued his moratorium on the death penalty a decade ago, spoke in favor of the ban.

"I think we're on the right side of history here," said Rep. Karen Yarbrough, a Democratic sponsor of the bill. "I appreciate the governor taking the time it took to listen to the other voices out there. We all took time to really look at this and we're standing on the shoulders of other legislators who have inched this thing along."