Following the lead of the House, the Illinois Senate voted today to officially enact a ban on capital punishment in that state. Supporters of the bill cited past mistakes, in which prisoners later determined innocent of their crimes were sent to death row in Illinois, the Chicago Tribune reported.
"We're here because we've seen countless examples of the fact that the system has failed," Democratic Sen. Toi Hutchinson said. "This question is not about the people who we know did it. It's about the people who were convicted who didn't. It's about our system of justice is actually predicated upon the protection of the innocent, and executing one innocent person is too high a price to pay."
The move to formally do away with the death penalty would make permanent the 10-year-old moratorium on capital punishment enacted by then Gov. George Ryan. A Republican, Ryan imposed the ban after several prisoners sent to death row were later exonerated.
Opponents of enacting a permanent ban say that the death penalty is a critical deterrent in the fight against crime.
"To take this tool away will cost us lives in the state of Illinois," state Sen. Dave Syverson said during debate.
Now that both chambers of the Legislature have passed the measure, speculation turns to whether Gov. Pat Quinn will sign it into law. As a candidate for office, Quinn responded to a question on his view of the death penalty with the following written answer:
After today's vote in the Senate, Quinn kept mum on his ultimate plans, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
I support capital punishment when applied carefully and fairly. ... Although the moratorium gives the state of Illinois time to review all aspects of capital punishment, and makes it possible to put effective safeguards in place, the death penalty underscores our shared belief as a society that some crimes deserve the most severe punishment, when handed down fairly and justly.
"Gov. Quinn plans to review the bill when he receives it from the Legislature," Annie Thompson, a Quinn spokeswoman, said.
A total of 15 states and the District of Colombia have voted to ban use of capital punishment, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
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