Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Will Illinois Join Civilized Society?

Just before leaving office under a cloud that turned in to a hailstorm for him, former Illinois Governor George Ryan not only imposed a moratorium on all death penalties, he commuted the death sentences of all those on the state's death row. He did this after 13 death row inmates were exonerated by DNA evidence, by the combined efforts of students at Northwestern University and The Innocence Project. After the commutation, two more inmates still serving life sentences were shown conclusively to be innocent. The moratorium has remained in place, with subsequent governors Blagojevich and Quinn supporting it until the state legislature rewrote the rules.

Yesterday, they went a step further. The previous week the lower house passed a bill ending the practice of judicial murder. The state senate followed suit. All the bill awaits now is Gov. Pat Quinn's signature. Quinn is dithering, supporting the moratorium while still supporting a more "just" death penalty. In the midst of so much horror and sadness, the news that Gov. Quinn has signed the repeal would be a moment of profound joy.

Fifteen states have ended the practice. A majority of Americans are opposed to it, for the first time in our history. Its deterrent value was long ago proved non-existent. Because of stringent appeal rules set up by the US Supreme Court years pass between the imposition of the penalty and its actual occurrence. In the end, those executed rarely are the same individuals who committed the crimes for which they've been convicted. Its disproportionality in relation to the race and class of the perpetrator have rendered it a joke, a sick, horrid joke. Two decades ago, a long-time supporter on the Supreme Court, Harry Blackmun announced that he no longer supported what he would term "the machinery of death".

I hope and pray that Gov. Quinn does the right thing, the just thing, and signs the bill.

Virtual Tin Cup

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