SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBS) – Illinois lawmakers have approved legislation to abolish the death penalty in Illinois, sending the measure to Gov. Pat Quinn on the last day of the lame-duck legislative session.
The Illinois Senate voted 32-25 Tuesday afternoon, following nearly two hours of debate on the Senate floor.
The House approved the proposal last week by a 60-54 vote.
It’s not clear what Quinn would do. He supports the death penalty, but has continued the long-standing moratorium on any executions in Illinois.
Death penalty critics said that the death penalty must end in Illinois because too many innocent people have been sent to death row and later exonerated.
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“We cannot afford to continue to have a death penalty in Illinois with the track record we have,” Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), the main Senate sponsor, said Tuesday. “I believe only the state of Florida has had more people sent to death row for crimes that they did not commit. We ought to be embarrassed by that.”
But supporters of the death penalty have said that the death penalty is the only fitting punishment for the worst criminals.
“That sets the balance straight,” Sen. Bill Haine (D-Alton) said.
As for the possibility that innocent defendants could be sentenced to death, Haine said those cases are rare and “that’s why we have skilled courts of review; multi-layers.”
Some death penalty supporters also said capital punishment is a vital tool for police and prosecutors when dealing with criminal suspects. They said it helps them obtain confessions and, in some cases, locate kidnapping victims by threatening a suspect with the death penalty.
“In the most serious cases, we need this tool,” Sen. Dave Syverson (R-Rockford) said. “This is a tool that will save additional lives. Use it sparingly, yes, but to take this tool away will cost us lives in Illinois.”
Death penalty supporters also said that lawmakers have already taken steps to reform the capital punishment system to avoid wrongful convictions, such as requiring police to videotape all interrogations of murder suspects.
But supporters noted that those reforms have not prevented police from obtaining false confessions, pointing to the cases of Kevin Fox and Jerry Hobbs, two men who confessed to killing their own daughters.
Hobbs and Fox said their confessions were coerced and both men were later exonerated by DNA evidence.
“I don’t think that’s evidence that reform is working,” Raoul said.
Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields) said, “We’re here because we’ve seen countless examples of the fact that the system has failed.”
Death penalty opponents also said they believed that a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole is worse than the death penalty, because such convicts must spend decades behind bars thinking about their crime.
“Sometimes I think maybe it is better for them to live with it with no chance of parole,” Hutchinson said. “You deal with it and then you burn in hell for what you did.”
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