IL Issue: Will “Middle America” Reject The Death Penalty?


Death penalty opponents say that if Illinois Gov. Patrick Quinn signs a bill abolishing capital punishment, it would be a dramatic stand against executions, says the National Law Journal. “This is the state people were watching for a long time,” said Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment. “It's a turning-point state. It's not the South, but not New England either. It's middle America.”

The other states that have ditched the death penalty recently — New Mexico in 2009, New Jersey in 2007 and New York (by court ruling) in 2004 — were not actively executing inmates beforehand. Illinois executed 12 people since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. Dieter wouldn't expect Illinois to set off an abolition avalanche across the nation. There are more than 3,200 people on death rows, and states like Texas and Mississippi are defiantly immune from pressure to end capital punishment. Kansas and South Dakota rejected abolition measures last year. Other factors were at work in Illinois as well, says author Scott Turow, a death penalty critic. “With the state $15 billion in debt, we simply can't afford a remedy with no proven benefit that can double or triple the cost of prosecution.” The higher litigation costs caused by lengthy death penalty appeals have enabled legislators in other states to frame it as a practical, economic issue and to avoid the moral dimensions.


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