Illinois Public Media News
Illinois abolished the death penalty Wednesday, more than a decade after the state imposed a moratorium on executions out of concern that innocent people could be put to death by a justice system that had wrongly condemned 13 men.
Gov. Pat Quinn also commuted the sentences of all 15 inmates remaining on death row. They will now serve life in prison with no hope of parole.
State lawmakers voted in January to abandon capital punishment, and Quinn spent two months reflecting on the issue, speaking with prosecutors, crime victims' families, death penalty opponents and religious leaders. He called it the "most difficult decision" he has made as governor.
"We have found over and over again: Mistakes have been made. Innocent people have been freed. It's not possible to create a perfect, mistake-free death penalty system," Quinn said after signing the legislation.
Illinois will join 15 other states that have done away with executions.
The executive director of a national group that studies capital punishment said Illinois' move sets it apart from other states that have eliminated the death penalty because many of those places rarely used it.
"Illinois stands out because it was a state that used it, reconsidered it and now rejected it," said Richard Dieter, of the Death Penalty Information Center, in Washington.
Prosecutors and some victims' families had urged Quinn to veto the measure.
The governor offered words of consolation to those who had lost loved ones to violence, saying that the "family of Illinois" was with them. He said he understands victims will never be healed.
Illinois' moratorium goes back to 2000, when then-Republican Gov. George Ryan made international headlines by suspending executions. Ryan acted after years of growing doubts about the state's capital-punishment system, which was famously called into question in the 1990s, after courts concluded that 13 men had been wrongly condemned.
Shortly before leaving office in 2003, Ryan also cleared death row, commuting the sentences of 167 inmates to life in prison.
Illinois' last execution was in 1999.
Quinn promised to commute the sentence of anyone else who might be condemned before the law takes effect on July 1.
New York and New Jersey did so in 2007. New Mexico followed in 2009, although new Republican Gov. Susana Martinez wants to reinstate the death penalty.
Anti-death penalty activists said other states have looked to Illinois as a leader on the issue ever since the moratorium began.
"This is a very significant action on the governor's part," said Mike Farrell, an actor best known for his role on the hit television show "M(asterisk)A(asterisk)S(asterisk)H" and a longtime activist who is now the president of the board of directors of Death Penalty Focus in California.
"This is a domino in one sense, but it's a significant one."
Kristin Houle, executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, agreed, saying Illinois' action "shows the national momentum towards repealing the death penalty."
As Illinois governor in the late 1970s, Republican James Thompson signed a law reinstating the death penalty and was an ardent supporter of capital punishment for decades.
"But for the last several years, I began to have my doubts," he said Wednesday.
Thompson said he came to believe the death penalty did not deter would-be murderers and that the risk of executing a single innocent person outweighed any potential benefits.
Quinn consulted with retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and met with Sister Helen Prejean, the inspiration for the movie "Dead Man Walking."
A Chicago woman whose teenage son was gunned down in 2006 said she was disappointed in Quinn's decision - a move, she said, that victims' relatives tried to talk him out of a few weeks ago.
Pam Bosley said nobody is in custody in her son's death, but whoever killed him does not deserve to live.
"I don't want them to breathe the air that I breathe," said Bosley, whose 18-year-old son, Terrell Bosley, was killed in front of a church on Chicago's South Side.
Bill Sloop, a truck driver from Carthage, said he was saddened to think that taxpayers would have to continue feeding, clothing and care for Daniel Ramsey, the death row prisoner who killed his 12-year-old daughter and wounded her older sister in a 1996 shooting spree.
Quinn "shouldn't have done what he did," Sloop said.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan appealed directly to Quinn to veto the bill, as did several county prosecutors and victims' families. They said safeguards, including videotaped interrogations and easier access to DNA evidence, were in place to prevent innocent people from being wrongly executed.
Madigan declined to comment on Quinn's decision.
But death penalty opponents argued that there was still no guarantee that an innocent person couldn't be put to death. Quinn's lieutenant governor, Sheila Simon, herself a former prosecutor, urged him to sign the bill.
Illinois has executed 12 men since 1977, when the death penalty was reinstated. The last execution was Andrew Kokoraleis on March 17, 1999. At the time, the average length of stay on death row was 13 years.
Kokoraleis, convicted of mutilating and murdering a 21-year-old woman, was put to death by lethal injection.
UI Holds Forum on Proposed Cuts to Institute of Aviation
The University of Illinois held a public forum Tuesday night to get feedback about a budget recommendation to break up the 65-year-old Institute of Aviation.
Two candidates for Danville mayor contend they were each offered a job by opponent Jim McMahon in exchange for giving up their campaigns.
Rickey Williams and David Quick both say they were offered the position of Vermilion county treasurer. Quick tells the Danville Commercial-News he was offered the job by McMahon himself, while Williams says it came through a supporter of the County Board Chairman, and he wasn't sure if McMahon was aware of it himself.
Williams says he has no intention of leaving the race, and has integrity.
"I'm not for sale. Even when I was on the (Danville) city council, someone attempted to bribe me about a liquor license," he said. "I made that public knowledge then. It's against everything I stand for as a person. We need somebody who's going to be forthright, and have the best interests of the people at heart. And backroom deals are not the way to represent the people's voice."
McMahon said Williams' comments make no sense, when considering that County Treasurer Sue Stine was just re-elected to office and does a good job. McMahon admitted that he suggested to Quick that he drop his campaign and team up with him, since their campaigns have similar messages regarding higher taxes, although both names would still appear on the ballot.
"Any time you have bad publicity it could damage your campaign," McMahon said. "But I hope people understand and would rise above this. This is a business decision, trying to help a businessman who basically was in 4th place, to come up and join my team so we could be together as committee traveling forward. What more can you ask for when you got fourth and first working together?"
McMahon also said it makes no sense to offer Quick a job, since he is a successful restaurant owner. Quick could not be reached for comment Tuesday,
A Rod Blagojevich spokesman says logistics problems forced his attorneys to withdraw a request that the former Illinois governor be allowed to travel to England.
A court filing Tuesday says only that the motion had been taken back.
But Blagojevich spokesman Glenn Selig explained later that there was too little time to organize the trip -- even had Judge James Zagel granted permission.
The defense had asked Zagel to let Blagojevich leave the country to speak at an Oxford Union event this week. The Oxford Union is a debating and speaking society in Oxford, England.
Before Blagojevich's first trial, Zagel turned down a travel request when Blagojevich wanted to go to Costa Rica to appear on a reality TV show.
Blagojevich's corruption retrial is scheduled to begin April 20.
(With additional reporting from the Associated Press)
House Democrats continue to stay away from the Indiana Statehouse, despite the fact their absence is now hitting their own pocketbooks.
Indiana House Majority Speaker Brian Bosma hopes to get business started Tuesday. The Republican leader didn't have any luck Monday restarting the session.
"Roll call shows 62 members present. For the beginning of the third week in a row, we fail to have a quorum for the conduct of business, much to the pleasure of the protesters," Bosma said as union organizers could be heard cheering outside the House chamber.
Bosma said the House levied $250 against each absent Democrat. About 30 or so remain in Urbana, Illinois. Fines will continue each day until they return.
Democrats are boycotting the current legislative session because of what they view as anti-union legislation proposed by the GOP.
Democratic Rep. Terry Goodin of Austin said his fellow caucus members are prepared to stay out "as long as it takes" to get Republicans to agree to changes, even if that means staying out past June 30 when the current budget expires.
Goodin says if that happens, Democrats wouldn't be to blame for shutting down the government. He says it's Bosma's responsibility to negotiate and bring back Democrats.
While the standoff inside the Indiana statehouse continues, union groups plan to continue rallying just outside. The Indiana AFL-CIO says it expects thousands of union workers to attend a "We Are Indiana" rally Thursday morning.
(Photo by Michael Puente/IPR)
A University of Illinois student who was struck by two vehicles over the weekend has died.
The Champaign County coroner's office said 21-year-old Bradley Bunte died late Monday morning - he had been in critical condition since late Friday night, when an eastbound van clipped him at University and McCullough in Urbana. Bunte was then run over by a second vehicle.
He was a Champaign native and a sports reporter for the Daily Illini.
(Photo courtesy of Facebook)
The president of the state Senate says Illinois should consider taxing the retirement income of some senior citizens.
Chicago Democrat John Cullerton said Monday that Illinois needs to overhaul its "outdated" tax system. As part of that process, the state could tax pensions or 401(k) plans for wealthier retirees.
He told the City Club of Chicago this could bring in roughly $1.6 billion a year, which could then be used to lower other taxes.
A spokeswoman says Cullerton would pursue the idea only if it was revenue neutral and had Republican support.
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn said he hadn't seen Cullerton's proposal but would be willing to consider it in the interest of tax "fairness.
Events Friday tied to the Unofficial St. Patrick's Day brought in a large amount of people to East Central Illinois...thanks in part to the social networking website, Facebook.
Extra police officers from Champaign, Urbana, and the University of Illinois campus were stationed around the community to prevent major disruptions and maintain public safety. There were 364 people who received court appearance notices for charges related to indecent behavior and public intoxication, and more than half of those cases were people who lived outside the Champaign-Urbana area.
While these figures are up from 2010 and 2009, Urbana Police Lieutenant Robert Fitzgerald said he thinks his department did a great job during the night.
"The police departments were all out there in force to make sure that everyone was safe," Fitzgerald said. "I don't think we could change much in the next year than what we did this year."
Meanwhile, a University of Illinois student who was struck by two vehicles over the weekend has died. According to the Champaign County coroner's office, 21-year-old Bradley Bunte passed away late Monday morning. He had been in critical condition since late Friday night, when an eastbound van clipped him at University and McCullough in Urbana. Bunte was then run over by a second vehicle. He was a Champaign native and a sports reporter for the Daily Illini.
Urbana Police are not saying at this point if the incident was connected to the Unofficial St. Patrick's Day celebrations.
Gov. Pat Quinn says he will act this week on a bill that would abolish executions in Illinois.
Quinn said Monday that he's "going to act" this week, but not Tuesday. He said there's still information he wants to read and research he wants to do before acting on the legislation.
The legislation reaches Quinn after former Gov. George Ryan dramatically cleared the state's death row in 2000.
Quinn has said his decision will be based on his conscience. He has spent two months consulting with prosecutors, murder victims' families, death penalty opponents and religious leaders as he weighs his options.
Illinois is one of 35 states to have the death penalty. The state currently does not carry out executions because of the 2000 moratorium.
Opponents of a plan to locate a coal mine in Southern Vermilion County will take their concerns before the County Board this week.
Sunrise Coal, which is in the process of buying mineral rights, wants to build on the county line, reaching into Eastern Champaign County. The group 'Stand Up to Coal' is led by retired farmer Charles Goodall of rural Sidell. He contends that a mine would devastate water quantity and quality, as well as public health.
"They (Sunrise) actually started sending out land agents well before there was any public discussion of the issues that inevitably affect everyone, not just a few people who are leasing," Goodall said. "The community in that sense was heavily disadvantaged. I happen to think that in a democracy, we all ought to be involved in these big discussions."
Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon said it's good to get these issues out in the open, but he says there are no zoning regulations in place to prevent the mine.
"Homeowners should be well informed of what is trying to be built in your community, and whether you support it or not." he said. "And that's when you come to your land usage people and say, 'You know what? The best interest of us might not be coal. Or the best interests of us might not be a hog farm.' That's when the public gets to stand at the plate, but when there's no zoning, there are no regulations that says they can't do any of that stuff."
McMahon said it would take two years before a land usage plan could be developed in Vermilion County. Champaign County Board members learned last fall that the Illinois Attorney General couldn't block Sunrise from locating in the area.
McMahon said there are no agenda items addressing coal at Tuesday night's Vermilion County Board meeting, but least two opponents to Sunrise's plan are expected to speak. The meeting begins 6 p.m. in the board room in the Vermilion County Courthouse Annex building in Danville.
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