CHICAGO (WBBM) – Opponents of capital punishment say now is the time, and are preparing to lobby lawmakers in Springfield to turn Illinois’ 10-year moratorium on executions into a permanent ban.
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Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty Executive Director Jeremy Schroeder said he believes he is “within striking distance” of securing the votes needed for passage.
Neither side has changed its fundamental view. Opponents of capital punishment say it deters no one, while supporters say it does — and saves lives.
But Schroeder also will tell lawmakers looking for ways to dig Illinois out of $13 billion in accumulated debt that it is far cheaper to let someone live life without parole in a maximum security prison than to pay for years of court appeals, some of which are mandated under Illinois law.
He said Illinois has lived without the death penalty, in practice, for 10 years, even though it remains on the books.
“Many in Illinois think we’ve gotten rid of it, except for the fact that all of us, as taxpayers, are paying down this expensive system that is broken,” he said.
That’s a claim rejected by outgoing DuPage County State’s Attorney Joe Birkett, who wrote many of the safeguards put in place since then-Gov. George Ryan imposed the moratorium in 2000.
Birkett said he sees an attempt to stampede lawmakers into action.
“This issue is too important to have it rushed through the veto session, where you have legislators voting on it who aren’t going to stand for re-election,” he said.
Birkett has been an outspoken supporter of capital punishment and takes issue with those who consider the system fundamentally flawed.
“With these reforms in place, there is no chance that an innocent person will be executed in this state,” he said flatly.
Schroeder said the record speaks for itself.
“We’ve had 20 innocent people found on Illinois’ death row, where one is too many,” Schroeder said. “Twenty is a tragedy.”
Ryan, in one of his last — and most controversial — acts as governor, commuted the death sentences of all 167 inmates then on Death Rows in Illinois prisons, in January 2003. But the death penalty has remained on the books throughout the moratorium.
Fifteen inmates have been sentenced to die since Ryan left office. The last prisoner to be executed, and the only prisoner whose death warrant was signed by Ryan, was Andrew Kokoraelis, who was given a lethal injection at the Tamms Correctional Center in 1999.