The death penalty would be abolished in Illinois under legislation the House approved for the first time yesterday, but the issue’s fate is uncertain in the final days of the legislature’s lame-duck session, the Chicago Tribune reports. The historic vote came 10 years after then-Gov. George Ryan ordered a moratorium on the death penalty after disclosures that several people sent to death row were not guilty.
The vote represented a growing recognition that DNA and improved technology in criminal science have exposed an uncertainty in verdicts that cannot be reversed once a death sentence is carried out. After much back and forth in the House, supporters collected the 60 votes they needed to pass the bill. Fifty-four House members voted against it. Opponents argued that the death penalty should remain in place as the ultimate punishment for the most heinous crimes. They pointed to a recent spate of murders of Chicago police officers, saying cop killers should not be let off with life in prison. The Senate’s overall support for the legislation still may be a few votes short. Backers hoped the House’s dramatic action would generate additional votes in the Senate.