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March, 2011



Illinois Governor Signs Bill to Repeal the Death Penalty

After weeks of speculation, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn gathered with death penalty opponents in a private bill-signing ceremony late Wednesday morning in his Springfield office, repealing the state’s death penalty. Funds from the Capital Litigation Trust Fund will be reallocated to provide law enforcement training and services to families of homicide victims. Governor Quinn had until March 18 to sign or veto the legislation or it would automatically become law. The Illinois House passed the repeal legislation 60-54 on January 6 with the Senate voting 32-25 in favor on January 11.  Illinois becomes the fourth state in the country to repeal the death penalty since 2005, following New York, New Jersey, and New Mexico.

Illinois has been under a moratorium for ten years, has had two study commissions, and passed dozens of reforms to try and make the death penalty work. And now, after the amazing work of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Illinois exonerees,  surviving family members of murder victims, and efforts from citizens nationwide, the legislature and the Governor have acknowledged that the system is broken beyond repair. Illinois can now devote its resources to measures that actually prevent violent crime and support victims’ families.

Illinois was the first state to impose a moratorium on executions in January 2000, sparking a new national conversation on the death penalty that has continued throughout the decade. Illinois was the first state to shine a spotlight on the death penalty’s flaws and many states have made changes since then.

In a statement Governor Quinn said, “Since our experience has shown that there is no way to design a perfect death penalty system, free from the numerous flaws that can lead to wrongful convictions or discriminatory treatment, I have concluded that the proper course of action is to abolish it. With our broken system, we cannot ensure justice is achieved in every case. For the same reason, I have also decided to commute the sentences of those currently on death row to natural life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole or release. I have found no credible evidence that the death penalty has a deterrent effect on the crime of murder and that the enormous sums expended by the state in maintaining a death penalty system would be better spent on preventing crime and assisting victims’ families in overcoming their pain and grief.”

Thanks to all of you who helped make history by calling Governor Quinn and asking him to sign this bill.

Picture by Randy von Liski

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Illinois Governor Considers Death Penalty Abolition

People across the country are carefully watching and listening to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn. Governor Quinn, in response, is listening to them. Following the passage of a bill by the Illinois legislature in January that repeals the state’s death penalty, Governor Quinn has spent a great deal of time listening to death penalty opponents and proponents alike. He has heard from death penalty opponents Desmond Tutu, Sister Helen Prejean, former Governor Bill Richardson, and exonerated death row inmates. He has spoken with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who supports the continuation of the death penalty. He has heard from victim’s family members on both sides of the issue.

With all the voices surrounding him, Governor Quinn remains remarkably silent about whether or not he plans to sign the legislation. Brought up Roman Catholic, Governor Quinn has stated he supports capital punishment in theory, but has also allowed the states 11 year moratorium on executions to remain in place during his term. Governor Quinn has until March 18th to act on the bill. When he does, people will be listening.

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Attorney Admits Ineffective Defense Led to Client’s Death Sentence

A recent article by Mark Curriden in the ABA Journal examines how lauded defense attorney Lionel Barrett’s ineffective counsel may have landed his client, Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman, on death row. Having interviewed Barrett for the piece, Curriden presents compelling evidence that Barrett’s lack of preparation for trial, which included failing to review Abdur’Rahman’s extensive history of mental illness and abuse, directly contributed to a death sentence. Barrett does not deny the charges of incompetency, stating, “My biggest failure was that I did not explore more into the facts of his mental illness and mental history… I have no excuse for how I mishandled this case.” Curriden also discusses how Barrett failed to have a key piece of evidence, Abdur’Rahman’s “bloody” coat, tested by experts. The blood that supposedly covered the defendant’s coat was actually paint from his work.

After coming within 36 hours of execution before intervention by the Supreme Court, Abdur’Rahman’s case is now being litigated through the appeals process by Nashville attorney William Redick. Redick, who states that he is a good friend of Lionel Barrett, is quoted in the article, saying, “Lionel was a damn good lawyer … but his defense—or lack thereof—is why Abu-Ali may be put to death.”

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