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Bringing Executions Back to IL: Expert Predicts it's Unlikely

An Illinois lawmaker says the death penalty should be reinstated for heinous crimes.  Credit: DodgertonSkillhause/Morguefile
An Illinois lawmaker says the death penalty should be reinstated for heinous crimes. Credit: DodgertonSkillhause/Morguefile
September 21, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Will the death penalty be coming back to Illinois? There have been no executions since 2000, when a moratorium was put in place by Gov. George Ryan, and capital punishment was eventually abolished in 2011.

Democratic state Sen. Bill Haine has said he intends to file legislation when the Senate reconvenes next month to restore the death penalty in limited instances.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, says while it isn't an unusual move, he doesn't expect it to get any traction.

"There have been legislators in other states that have abolished the death penalty who have introduced bills to reinstate it, and typically those bills have gone nowhere," says Dunham. "Generally, they haven't even gotten hearings set up in the committees."

There have been past attempts to bring back capital punishment to Illinois, but none of the bills made it out of committee.

Haine points out that times have changed since 2011, with terrible acts occurring around the country that include the recent shooting death of a police officer in Illinois. He suggests the death sentence be used for the most heinous crimes, such as the murder of police officers or children.

Meanwhile, Dunham explains the national view on capital punishment is changing.

"Over time, the debate has shifted," he says, "from, 'Are there some rare instances in which it might be imposed?' to 'Is this a policy that can be carried out reliably and consistently?'"

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there have been 155 death row inmates exonerated since 1971, the most recent in June of this year. Besides the problem of wrongful convictions, Dunham says there are questions about racial discrimination in the use of the death penalty and about police and prosecutorial misconduct.

"As in Illinois – where there were more innocent people who were tortured into giving false confessions than there were guilty people who were executed in the state – there is ongoing, very serious concern about the death penalty," Dunham states.

A poll from the Pew Research Center earlier this year showed 56 percent of the public supports the death penalty, the lowest level it has reported in the last 40 years.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL