Executions in Illinois to remain on hold

Saturday, February 7, 2009
Gov. Pat Quinn

COLLINSVILLE, Ill. -- Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said Friday he has no immediate plans to lift the state's 9-year-old death penalty moratorium until he's satisfied safeguards are in place to keep innocent people off death row.

Quinn, the former lieutenant governor who last week succeeded scandal-plagued Rod Blagojevich, said he supports capital punishment but not necessarily the way it has been applied.

No one has been put to death in Illinois since 2000 when Gov. George Ryan put all executions on hold, citing more than a dozen cases in which people were improperly sentenced to death. Three years later, the Republican took the extraordinary step of emptying Illinois' death row by commuting the sentences of all 167 inmates to life in prison.

Blagojevich continued the ban despite approving several reforms, and state lawmakers have ignored legislative attempts to decide the issue.

As of Friday, there were 15 people on the state's death row, state corrections officials said.

The Democratic Quinn will let the ban linger as he tends to more immediate concerns, including a state budget deficit that could be as high as $9 billion. He hopes to winnow that margin with federal funds under President Obama's economic recovery plan and through strategic cuts of "some of the frivolous things" in state spending.

He didn't elaborate on the cuts, suggesting only that "core priorities" including public safety, education and health care were more likely to be spared. "I think the first thing we have to do is tighten the belt wherever we can; that's what every family would do," he said.

As for the death penalty, Quinn notes that "in Illinois there has been a history of shortcomings in that area -- where the application of it was not done properly."

"I would not lift the moratorium at this time until we make sure in Illinois that the application of the death penalty is done in a way that has no mistakes, zero tolerance for mistakes," he said Friday after an appearance at a high school in Collinsville to tout portable defibrillators meant to assist heart attack victims.

Wrongfully executing someone, he said, would be haunting.

"If somebody's innocent and they're on death row, we want to make sure everything is done to make sure they're not put to death improperly. That would never be right, and I think that would be on all our consciences."

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