SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WBBM) – Opponents of the death penalty said Thursday that their job is far from finished, even though the legislature has sent Gov. Pat Quinn a bill that would abolish capital punishment in Illinois.
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“I think he’s being lobbied right now,” said Randy Steidl, of downstate Paris, who spent more than 11 years on death row for a 1986 murder that someone else committed. “I think he’s being lobbied hard by police and the prosecutors.”
In the past year, Steidl has become one of the highest-visibility proponents of the bill that would abolish the death penalty in Illinois.
He spoke at a forum hosted by Northwestern University School of Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions. It took place in the Lincoln Room of the law school, the same room in which then, Gov. George Ryan emptied Death Row by executive order eight years ago Wednesday.
Steidl recounted the history of his case, saying that even when evidence emerged that proved his innocence local prosecutors and police swept it under the rug and even halted an Illinois State Police re-investigation of the case because the actual killer had political connections.
“I’m not here because of the system. I’m here despite it,” he said, echoing comments he made in Springfield in response to those who support capital punishment as a deterrent.
Steidl said he is “sick” of hearing arguments from supporters who say the death penalty is reserved for the “worst of the worst,” saying that’s what people said about him before his exoneration.
And he said that he was appalled by comments made by State Sen. William Haine (D-Alton), a former Madison County state’s attorney. During debate on the bill, Haine compared executing the innocent to “friendly fire” casualties on the battlefield.
“The system of capital punishment can never be fair and can never be sure that we’re not going to convict the wrong people,” said Karen Daniels, one of the Northwestern attorneys who worked on Steidl’s case.
“Why go to the pen when you can send a friend?” asked Jane Raley, another of the Center’s staff attorneys, who said offers of immunity and paid testimony do little more than assure that some witnesses will lie on the stand.
Raley and Daniels said many of the changes in procedure adopted in capital cases do not extend to other serious crimes, and said if Quinn signs the bill, that will be their next crusade.
Steidl said first things first.
“If given the opportunity, I would like to speak to the governor, and bring as many exonerees as we can possibly get,” he said.
Former State Sen. Dawn Clark Netsch (D-Chicago), who ran for governor in 1994 on a platform that included abolishing the death penalty, said she did not expect to see such legislation passed in her lifetime.
“It really is a surprise,” said the 84-year-old Netsch.
Would Netsch make a personal call to Quinn, a long-time acquaintance, to try to sway his decision?
“I have no idea if I could get through to him,” she said, although she said she is certain Quinn know where she stands. She said she has spoken with members of Quinn’s staff, and expects Quinn to sign the bill.
Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty Executive Director Jeremy Schroeder said the group expects to mount a grassroots effort to lobby Quinn.
Quinn has until early April to decide whether to sign the bill.
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