Monday, February 14, 2011

Advocates to Quinn: Sign death penalty bill

By Lauren N. Johnson

As the clock ticks down on Gov. Pat Quinn’s time to make a decision, advocates of repealing Illinois’ death penalty today urged him to sign the abolition measure that legislators approved in January.

Members of Witness to Innocence, a national organization of exonerated death row inmates, continue to push for elimination of the death penalty in Illinois as well as in other states.

Four states – New Mexico, New Jersey, New York and Maryland – have abolished the death penalty within the past year.

According to a spokesperson for Quinn, he is reviewing the bill and has until March 18 to take action. He can sign the measure into law or veto it and send it back to the legislature to take up during the fall veto session. Quinn has 60 days to make up his mind about legislation after the General Assembly sends it to his desk. If he does not act on the bill, it will automatically become law.

“There’s always going to be wrongful convictions. We see it in cases where guys are doing life without parole that are released after 30 years with DNA. At least they are alive to prove their innocence,” said Randy Steidl, secretary of the group, who was wrongfully convicted of a double murder in downstate Paris, Ill., in 1987.

Steidl added, “On death row, you have a procedural clock and there are certain procedures and hurdles that you have to go through to prove your innocence, and if you cannot meet that burden, that clock stops and you are executed.”

Delbert Tibbs said he was also wrongfully sentenced to death row and spent three years in Florida’s death row system. Tibbs said he recommends that those currently on Illinois’ death row not be executed and should be sentenced to different punishments fitting their individual crimes.

“It is literally less expensive, both morally and in the material realm, to mete out another kind of punishment rather than that of killing people,” said Tibbs, highlighting the financial benefits of using other alternatives to the death penalty.

Rep. Dennis Reboletti, an Addison Republican, and Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican, plan to hold a news conference tomorrow on their legislation to reinstate the death penalty if Quinn signs the abolition bill. Check back for coverage of the event.

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