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"Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history": Illinois abolishes the death penalty
March 9, 2011 4:09 PM   Subscribe

IL Gov. Pat Quinn—formerly a strong supporter of capital punishment—today signed into law the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois. This comes eleven years after Gov. George Ryan—also a former supporter of capital punishment—signed a moratorium on the death penalty, commuting the sentences of 167 death row inmates to life (including ten men who had made false confessions under torture directed by police commander Jon Burge [previously here and here]). Between 1977 and 1999, Illinois executed 12 inmates, while freeing 13 innocent men from Death Row.

One of the 13 men freed from Death Row, Anthony Porter, came within two days of execution amid growing public protests; a stay was issued based on the question of Porter’s IQ, during which journalism students at Northwestern University were able to conduct their own investigation and find the man who actually committed the crime. Of the 12 men executed between 1977 and 1999, at least one, Girvies Davis, is widely considered to have been innocent, having been convicted and sentenced based on a false confession.

Illinois now becomes the 16th state to ban the death penalty. Nationwide, opposition to capital punishment continues to grow. (final link requires a little bit of a scroll-down.)

(Disclaimer: I was an activist around the Death Row 10 case and a founding member of the organization in the second-to-last link.)
posted by scody (42 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
!
posted by mudpuppie at 4:13 PM on March 9, 2011


It's about time.
posted by Max Power at 4:17 PM on March 9, 2011



posted by JHarris at 4:18 PM on March 9, 2011


Proud day to be from Illinois.
posted by wcfields at 4:18 PM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Of the 12 men executed between 1977 and 1999, at least one, Girvies Davis, is widely considered to have been innocent, having been convicted and sentenced based on a false confession.

"at least one" is far, far too much.
posted by jammy at 4:18 PM on March 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


Well done, Gov. Quinn
posted by Mick at 4:22 PM on March 9, 2011


This is good.
posted by phunniemee at 4:22 PM on March 9, 2011


Great news. Amnesty International has a section dedicated to the abolition of the death penalty.
posted by Paragon at 4:22 PM on March 9, 2011


Good.
posted by zardoz at 4:24 PM on March 9, 2011


In theory, I don't have a particular problem with the death penalty. In practice, however, the level of assurance needed goes so far beyond 'reasonable doubt' that there's simply no way to implement it in a way that isn't open to deliberate abuse or accidentally killing innocent people.

Good for Illinois for recognizing that.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:25 PM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


From the governor's statement:

"For me, this was a difficult decision ..."

So the decision to stop killing innocent men whom you couldn't sort out from other people who shouldn't have been killed anyway was a difficult decision?

I applaud the guy for making the right decision in the face of America's disgusting bloodlust that demands state-sponsored murder, but that's some really flagrant pandering to people who don't deserve it.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:25 PM on March 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


In theory, I'm a big supporter of capital punishment. I think it is within a nation's rights and (sometimes) best interest. Unfortunately there are so many points of failure and so many imperfect human judgments that it's hard to support in practice.
posted by 2bucksplus at 4:27 PM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


What's the opposite of a "look at these assholes" post? Because this is that, and it's great.
posted by Dasein at 4:30 PM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


...or basically what jacquilynne said.
posted by 2bucksplus at 4:32 PM on March 9, 2011


Great. Just great. Now everybody's going to start murdering people in Illinois.
posted by jabberjaw at 4:32 PM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I applaud the guy for making the right decision in the face of America's disgusting bloodlust that demands state-sponsored murder, but that's some really flagrant pandering to people who don't deserve it.

Give me flagrant pandering with heroic moral fortitude any day!
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 4:35 PM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yay!
posted by eviemath at 4:36 PM on March 9, 2011


jacquilynne: In theory, I don't have a particular problem with the death penalty. In practice, however, the level of assurance needed goes so far beyond 'reasonable doubt' that there's simply no way to implement it in a way that isn't open to deliberate abuse or accidentally killing innocent people.

Among several other reasons.
posted by gman at 4:38 PM on March 9, 2011


9. No longer practiced in most sophisticated societies.

The wording on that argument in gman's link really bothers me.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 4:41 PM on March 9, 2011


by the way, I'd like to particularly urge folks to read the link to Ryan's speech that he gave regarding the moratorium -- it's a good overview at what went so wrong at every level of the system to have so many cases of innocent people ending up on death row, and how it forced him to change his previous position on capital punishment.
posted by scody at 4:42 PM on March 9, 2011


The wording on that argument in gman's link really bothers me.

Yeah, that's badly worded. The top 10 countries in terms of people executed in 2009: China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, USA, Yemen, Sudan, Vietnam, Syria, and Japan.
posted by Paragon at 4:48 PM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The wording on that argument in gman's link really bothers me.

Yeah, the more typical way of framing it is to refer to "industrialized democracies." As of 2008, the top five countries with the highest rates of executions were China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Pakistan. (on preview: near-jinx!)
posted by scody at 4:52 PM on March 9, 2011


gman:

Among several other reasons."

Those reasons essentially boil down to
1. Cost
2. An innocent being put to death
3. Is not a deterrent
4. It's morally wrong

1. Seems problematic in that if the cost was cheaper than life imprisonment, then the Death penalty is ok?

2. The most valid reason, IMO

3. Is Prison a deterrent? If capital punishment is not a deterrent, what is? Or conversely, is the main point of prison/capital punishment to deter crime? In other words, this reason is full of gray areas

4. By whose morals? Or in other words, *some* find it immoral, others do not. Until there's more universal agreement, this argument lacks substance to me as well.

Like someone else said, reasonable doubt should be insufficient to impose the death penalty. I think we'd be better served if juries had more leeway and could say "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt" or "guilty beyond all doubt".

Regardless, good on Illinois and the other states with moratoriums, since the current system is fundamentally broken.
posted by forforf at 4:54 PM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, I guess thanks go to Japan for making us not as lonely as far as industrialized democracies, but really I'm not a fan of that either. We're intentionally creating a group to make the US seem out of place and barbaric, but the point is that the US would be out of place and barbaric even if every nation in Europe was executing people too (which in living memory, many were). Regardless of industrialized or not, democracy or not, I still expect you as a country to abolish your death penalty system unless you can prove damn well that it isn't abusive, destructive to human dignity, and unjust.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 4:56 PM on March 9, 2011


And not to get carried away, but yes, good job Illinois for doing this. Whatever your reasons and whatever path you've taken, you're making the Earth a less brutal place, which really counts for something.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 4:57 PM on March 9, 2011


Seems problematic in that if the cost was cheaper than life imprisonment, then the Death penalty is ok?

I don't think that's the argument they're making, but, rather, one they're refuting. It's an argument I hear a lot. In fact, I hear it over and over again from my father every time he hears about some crime he has decided is worthy of the death penalty. "We'll spend millions of dollars to keep them in jail for the rest of their lives and feed them and clothe them. We should just put a bullet in them and be done with it."[1]

So, the anti-death penalty folks are saying "Yeah, but it's not actually cheaper." Which many pro-death penalty folks would answer by saying, "Yeah, well, you shouldn't let them have endless appeals that take years and cost millions of dollars. One trial is enough!"

[1] Of course, he'd be perfectly happy if we also skipped the trial phase and just went straight to the bullet, so that should tell you something about how well thought out his position is.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:07 PM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


As an Illinoisan, I am used to corruption and "early and often" voting in our government. We are also more or less bankrupt, and the CTA costs more and runs less and Cook County has the highest sales tax in the country*... but this makes makes me delighted to be from the Land of Lincoln**.



*I don't want to buy shoes THAT much. Well, I do, but I can't afford to
**Lincoln was born in Kentucky.
posted by jenlovesponies at 5:12 PM on March 9, 2011


Give me flagrant pandering with heroic moral fortitude any day!

That's the thing-- it's not heroic moral fortitude if you say "I really hemmed and hawed about doing the obviously proper thing." I'm glad he did the principled thing, absolutely. It just shows how fucked up our society is that an elected official can't even say simply "No matter what your views on capital punishment are, every person with a shred of decency agrees that a system that can't reliably separate the guilty from the innocent has no business executing people. This was an obvious decision."

Know what would be really heroic? Putting it all out there:

"Obviously we have no business executing people, and the most prominent reason is that our courts can't be trusted not to kill someone who is completely innocent of the charges presented. So obviously it should have been a simple decision to end capital punishment in Illinois. But I found myself agonizing about it despite the glaring clarity of what's right. Know why? Because I am elected to my position, and I was worried about alienating the shockingly large portion of my constituency that is so simple, brutish and backwards that they would prefer executions continue for their own stunted, reptilian satisfaction. A disgusting number of you will never understand justice beyond the level exercised by lesser apes and wallow in your ignorance and narcissistic primal urges with your chests thrust proudly out. The people I'm describing are disgusting. As I'm recounting this, I feel rather disgusting myself for ever entertaining the thought that people of that nature should be appeased, whether it might cost me my position to ignore them or not. Lets just try to do better as people and as a society, please? I am certainly going to do my best to make this happen."

That would qualify as heroic.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:21 PM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


jabberjaw: "Great. Just great. Now everybody's going to start murdering people in Illinois."

I actually saw almost that precise comment in the local rag (stltoday.com)'s comments section today. Some people actually believe that capital punishment is a deterrent.
posted by notsnot at 5:54 PM on March 9, 2011


Thank you. I needed a little faith in humanity tonight. This is incredible.
posted by stoneweaver at 6:10 PM on March 9, 2011


Smells like progress.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:27 PM on March 9, 2011


Well, good.

What's that that Blackstone said? "Better that ten guilty men escape than one innocent suffer?"
posted by Leta at 6:57 PM on March 9, 2011


This is a nice bit of good news in a shitty news week.
posted by octothorpe at 7:22 PM on March 9, 2011


Between the civil unions, the tax hike, and the abolition of the death penalty in the last 3 months in Illinois, I just have this to say:

ALL UR DEMOCRATS R BELONG TO US
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:54 PM on March 9, 2011


Thank goodness.
posted by willhopkins at 8:05 PM on March 9, 2011


Finally. Now that I don't have that deterrent deterring me I can get moving on that backlog of murdering that's been piling up all these years.
posted by _aa_ at 8:13 PM on March 9, 2011


AS sure as the sun rises, someone on Metafilter will think that good news, no matter how good, is not good enough.
posted by oddman at 8:56 PM on March 9, 2011


All that thought that the Death Row prisoners put into planning their last meals... wasted.

four whole fried chickens and a Coke
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:12 PM on March 9, 2011


[Werner Herzog] is currently mid-production on a documentary about death row: "Because I am German, I cannot be an advocate of capital punishment," he says. "A state should never be allowed to decide about life or death. It's a core principle that cannot be shaken within me."
'The dark comedy of Werner Herzog', an interview in The Guardian
posted by Cantdosleepy at 12:50 AM on March 10, 2011


As a Missourian, I used to make fun of my wife as a FIP (Fuckin' Illinois Person). Now I'm kinda jealous that she got to grow up in a state that makes sense, instead of a state that has lawmakers that say "cutting school lunches for poor kids builds character."
posted by notsnot at 4:14 AM on March 10, 2011


Good news on an otherwise crappy news day. Progress may be slow, but it's still progress and for that I'm thankful.
posted by arcticseal at 6:09 AM on March 10, 2011


journalism students at Northwestern University were able to conduct their own investigation and find the man who actually committed the crime

Every time an innocent person is convicted, a guilty person walks free. That's never seemed very "tough on crime" in my book.
posted by Gelatin at 6:19 AM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


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