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Vol. 75/No. 12      March 28, 2011

Death penalty abolished in
Illinois: A victory for workers
(front page)
CHICAGO—After foot-dragging for two months, Illinois governor Patrick Quinn finally signed into law March 9 a bill abolishing the state’s death penalty. At the private signing ceremony at the state capitol in Springfield, Quinn told the press, “It is impossible to create a perfect system, free of all mistakes… free of all discrimination with respect to race or economic circumstances or geography.”

The Illinois State Senate passed the bill January 11 during the same session where it increased income taxes by 67 percent. With the signing of the bill Illinois became the 16th state to stop capital punishment. Thirty-four states still allow the death penalty, the fewest since 1978.

In the last decade three other states have abandoned the death penalty—New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York—either through legislation or court action.

Between 1976 and 1999, Illinois carried out 12 executions. Some 20 inmates have been exonerated and taken off the state’s death row in the last 35 years—the second highest number in the United States.

Quinn’s action makes permanent a moratorium on the death penalty declared in 2000 by one of his predecessors, Republican governor George Ryan. Ryan’s decision came in the midst of growing protests over the torture by cops in Chicago to extract confessions from suspects, most of whom were Black.

It also came at a time when anti-death-penalty organizations, like the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University, were widely publicizing the growing number of cases where people who had spent years on death row were exonerated.

According to Ryan, the 1999 release of Anthony Porter, a Black inmate who spent 15 years on death row and came within 50 hours of being executed, spurred him to take action on Illinois’s death penalty law.

Mark Clements, a leader of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and the Jail Jon Burge Committee, told the Militant that he applauded the signing of the new legislation, “both the abolition of the death penalty and the commutation of the sentences of the 15 men still on death row.”

“We still have to deal with the situation of the 23 men still incarcerated as a result of false confessions forced out of them by Jon Burge. Though they don’t face the death penalty their situation is still urgent,” he said.

Burge, a Chicago police commander who was convicted of lying about the torture he oversaw, will be reporting to serve his sentence on March 16. Clements said the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and other groups have called a rally to demand new hearings for the 23 that day outside the Cook County Courthouse.  
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