Governor Pat Quinn is expected to sign a bill abolishing the death penalty in Illinois today, on the heels of a lengthy listening tour. The Democrat has discussed the issue with prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, murder victims' families, former death row inmates, law enforcement officials, and even South African bishop Desmond Tutu and actor Martin Sheen. Quinn's attorney general wants him to maintain capital punishment, while his lieutenant governor wants him to ban it. Quinn himself has voiced personal support for the death penalty when fairly applied but has said he will ultimately follow his "conscience."
Former Republican Governor George Ryan instituted a moratorium on executions in Illinois back in 2000 after evidence emerged that 13 death row inmates were innocent. There are currently 15 inmates on Illinois' death row.
If Illinois does indeed become the 16th state to abolish the death penalty, it could learn a thing or two from New Mexico, which banned capital punishment in 2009. New Mexico's experience suggests that the fight over the death penalty isn't over once the governor signs the bill.
Like Quinn, former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson was a longtime supporter of capital punishment before he abolished New Mexico's death penalty. Richardson also met with stakeholders, wrestled with the issue of wrongful execution, and anguished over his decision. He and Quinn even faced the same deadline to make their call: March 18.
New Mexico's new Republican governor, however, has campaigned to reinstate capital punishment. In her State of the State address this year, Susana Martinez–a career prosecutor–declared that "when a monster rapes and murders a child or a criminal kills a police officer, the death penalty should be an option for the jury." But Martinez probably won't get her way; two separate bills to revive the death penalty stalled in committee on Tuesday. Milan Simonich at the Carlsbad Current-Argus explains that reinstating the death penalty "has generated little interest among legislators" because the battle was so recently waged. Death penalty prosecutions and appeals also cost a lot of money, he adds, and the cash-strapped state has little appetite for taking on costly endeavors.
Richardson, for his part, has offered Quinn some advice about the anti-death penalty bill before him: "I'd recommend that he sign it," Richardson told the Chicago Tribune.