Illinois' death row officially shuts down

After spending years at the centre of heated national debate over capital punishment, Illinois' death row officially died yesterday when a state law abolishing the death penalty quietly took effect.

The state garnered international attention when then-Republican Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium in 2000 after several inmates' death sentences were overturned and he cleared death row three years later. One man who came within 48 hours of being executed was among those later declared innocent.



The fate of executions in the state was sealed in March when Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation ending the death penalty, following years of stories of men sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit and families of murder victims angrily demanding their loved ones' killers pay with their own lives.



Illinois has executed 12 men since 1977, when the death penalty was reinstated, but none since 1999.



Quinn subsequently commuted the sentences of the 15 men on death row to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Fourteen are now in maximum security prisons, while one is in a medium-high security prison with a mental health facility.



Ironically, the state's death row at the prison in Pontiac, southwest of Chicago, has been turned into a place where inmates go when they're deemed worthy of leaving the state's super-maximum prison in southern Illinois, the Tamms Correctional Center, and enter a less-restrictive program.



"It is a step down from Tamms," said Stacey Solano, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Corrections. "When they transition out, it is a restrictive environment but not as restrictive as Tamms."



As for the death chamber itself, no decision has been made about what — if anything — will be done with it, Solano said.



The legislation abolishing the death penalty was signed by Quinn amid much fanfare, but yesterday's finality was barely noted around the state. Solano said the department received just two calls for information from the media.



That lack of interest stands in contrast to the last dozen years or so when Illinois was often at the forefront of debate over the death penalty.



Ryan, who imposed the execution moratorium after the death sentences of 13 men were overturned, called the state's capital punishment system "haunted by the demon of error." He cleared death row shortly before leaving office in 2003, by commuting the sentences of 167 condemned inmates to life in prison.



Even as lawmakers debated the death penalty and the moratorium, prosecutors continued to seek the death penalty. By the time Quinn signed the bill in March, there were 15 men on death row.



Among them was Brian Dugan, who was convicted in 2009 in the 1983 slaying of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico — years after two men were sentenced to death for the same slaying before they were ultimately exonerated and released from prison.



His attorney, Steven Greenberg, said that shutting down death row was proper given that people were convicted and sentenced to death for that crime and others they did not commit.



"Anytime you've got a system where there is a danger of providing retribution on the wrong person, that's no different than vigilante justice, which is what we had," he said.



Greenberg said some juries, with their decisions not to recommend the death penalty in other cases in recent years, were already sending a message that they remained concerned about the possibility of executing an innocent person.



Former Cook County State's Attorney Dick Devine, a proponent of the death penalty and a vocal critic of Ryan's decision to clear death row, pointed out that among those who benefit from the ban is a man who raped a mother and daughter in front of one another before stabbing them to death.



"I believe there are some people who do such terrible things that they forfeit their right to be among us," he said.

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
tv

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
John Moore inspired this Coca Cola Christmas advert
people

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
A Rutherford Raiders shirt with the PornHub sponsorship
football

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie Sheen said he would
tv

Charlie Sheen could be set to revive his role as a hedonistic womaniser

Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Radcliffe gives a strong performance in Horns
film

Review: Alexandre Aja's film is a Twin Peaks-style mystery

News
Apple CEO Timothy Cook
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film

Review: Mike Leigh's biopic is a rambling, rich character study

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Financial Controller - Media, Hospitality / Events

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

Management Accountant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful events and hospital...

The benefits of Recruitment at SThree...

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: SThree, International Recruitme...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Are you looking for a...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes