Illinois votes to abolish death penalty

originally by: Chicago Tribune
5th January 2011

The death penalty would be abolished in Illinois under legislation the House approved for the first time Thursday, but the ban’s fate is uncertain in the final days of the General Assembly’s lame-duck session. The historic vote comes 10 years after then-Gov. George Ryan placed a moratorium on the death penalty following revelations that several people sent to death row were not guilty.

The capital punishment ban still has some hurdles to clear. But the vote represented a growing recognition that DNA and improved technology in criminal science have exposed an uncertainty in verdicts that cannot be reversed once a death sentence is carried out.

“You can release an innocent person from prison, but you can’t release them from the grave,” said Gordon “Randy” Steidl, who spent 17 years in prison, including 12 on death row, after he was wrongfully convicted of a 1986 double-murder.

The partial victory for death-penalty opponents did not come easily. The proposal fell one vote short of passing the first time, but got the extra vote needed a short time later. Rep. Karen Yarbrough, D-Maywood, said she thought she had the votes to pass the plan on the first go-round, but that some “didn’t find their way.”

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