The Southern Illinoisan
January 25, 2011
By Rob Crow
Gov. Pat Quinn has not yet made a decision on abolishing the death penalty in Illinois. But his second-in-command made her feelings known to the governor Monday.
Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon wrote a letter urging Quinn to sign SB3539, which would abolish the death penalty. That letter was deliv-ered to Quinn's office in the Capitol on Monday afternoon.
Simon, a former Southern Illinois University law professor, also spent four years as an assistant state's attorney in Jackson County, primarily prosecuting cases involving traffic or domestic battery.
In the letter, she said she did not charge someone unless convinced of their guilt and was proud of the job she did as a prosecutor within the legal system, but that the system is far from perfect.
"Our criminal justice system, even when operated in the best of circumstances, is subject to flaws," Simon wrote. "As a matter of public respect for our justice system, we cannot tolerate error in execution. As a former prosecutor and your Lt. Governor, I urge you to end the death penalty in Illinois."
Simon pointed out that since 1977, 20 people who had been sentenced to death in the state were freed.
"We try criminal cases to a standard of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,'" Simon wrote. "It is a higher standard than the burden in civil cases, but it is not ‘beyond all doubt.' Our system links an irrevocable punishment to a standard where jurors could have some nagging questions about the defendant's guilt."
There has been a moratorium on the death penalty for 10 years, as enacted by then-Gov. George Ryan, and continued by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Quinn.
The hotly debated repeal bill made it through the House on Jan. 6 by a 60-54 vote. Among local lawmakers, state Reps. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, John Bradley, D-Marion, Dan Reitz, D-Steeleville, and Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, all voted no.
On Jan. 11, the bill passed the Senate, 32-25. State Sens. Gary Forby, D-Benton, Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, and John O. Jones, R-Mount Vernon, all voted against the measure.
Annie Thompson, a spokeswoman for Quinn, said Monday the governor is currently reviewing the legislation. He has 60 days to do so from the day he received the bill, which was Jan. 18.
"He will act definitely during that time period, in a manner that best meets the needs of our state," Thompson said.