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Opponents of the death penalty applauded Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn for deciding on March 9 to sign legislation abolishing capital punishment in the state and to commute the sentences of the 15 inmates still on death row to life in prison without parole. “Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history,” Quinn said after signing the bill into law during a private ceremony. “I think it’s the right, just thing to abolish the death penalty.” He added, “With our broken system, we cannot ensure justice is achieved in every case.” Quinn argued that the money saved by ending capital punishment – including reduced costs for lengthy appeals – would be “better spent” on crime prevention and aid to crime victims. Abolitionists said the dramatic step taken by Illinois would add new momentum to efforts in other states to end the death penalty. Illinois is the fourth state in four years to end capital punishment – the others being New Mexico, New Jersey and New York. Legislators in Montana, Connecticut, Kansas and Maryland may act on repeal measures this year. “Illinois tried harder than any other state to create a system that worked over the last 11 years, and they decided it couldn’t be fixed,” said Shari Silberstein, executive director of Equal Justice USA, which pushed for repeal in Illinois. “Other states might decide to do what Illinois did instead of wasting 11 years.” Following reports of flawed prosecutions, former Gov. George Ryan called a moratorium on executions in 2000, followed by numerous commissions and legislative reforms. Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said, “The Illinois repeal is an indication of a growing national trend toward alternatives to the death penalty, and an increased focus on murder victims’ families and the prevention of crime.” Quinn, a Democrat, deliberated about what to do for two months, after both houses of the Illinois Legislature approved the legislation ending the state’s death penalty in January. Quinn said he consulted with religious leaders, prosecutors and the families of murder victims. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and other prosecutors urged Quinn to veto the bill and instead to improve investigative and forensic techniques to prevent mistakes. “It is impossible not to feel the pain of loss that all these families share or to understand the desire for retribution that many may hold,” Quinn said in announcing his decision. “But as I heard from family members who lost loved ones to murder, maintaining a flawed death penalty system will not bring back their loved ones, will not help them to heal and will not bring closure to their pain.” Tony Mauro can be contacted at [email protected].

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