The State Journal-Register
January 25, 2011
By Chris Wetterich
Gov. Pat Quinn may not have decided whether Illinois should have the death penalty, but his No. 2 has made up her mind: Abolish it.
In a letter dated Monday, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, who served as a prosecutor in Jackson County, urged Quinn to sign Senate Bill 3539, which would abolish the death penalty in all future criminal cases.
Simon cited the fact that 20 people who were sentenced to death in Illinois have been freed “because they were found innocent or the cases against them collapsed.”
“Today, our state is at a crossroads in terms of the use of capital punishment as a deterrent to and punishment for serious crimes,” Simon wrote. “Even in the best of circumstances, our system allows for error. …
“As a matter of public respect for our justice system, we cannot tolerate errors in execution. As a former prosecutor and your Lt. Governor, I urge you to end the death penalty in Illinois.”
In an interview Monday night, Simon said she shared her views recently with Quinn, and he asked her to put them in writing.
“Maybe not every former prosecutor is opposed to the death penalty, but I am and appreciate that he has been seeking opinions and experiences from different people,” Simon said.
Simon did not try a murder case while she was an assistant state’s attorney.
Simon wrote that she is concerned that death penalty defendants may not have “an active, alert attorney” and that the accused themselves may not have the capacity to “ably assist an attorney in their defense.”
Prosecutors, law enforcement officials and legislators who oppose abolition have argued that the death penalty is needed to induce cooperation from murderers in plea bargains and in cases where the body of a murder victim has not been recovered. They have also said the death penalty should be reserved for mass murderers, such as John Wayne Gacy, or those who commit heinous crimes against children.
“I think that comes the closest to being a persuasive argument, but it still does not persuade me that the state should be the agent to kill someone -- particularly in a circumstance where we’re not sure that our system gets to the right answer,” Simon said.
Quinn has said in recent days that he wants to hear from all sides of the debate over capital punishment before deciding whether to abolish it.
Simon is the latest public official to weigh in publicly. A DuPage County judge tried to ratchet up the pressure on the governor on Monday, saying that it was “grossly irresponsible” for Quinn not to have stated his intentions.
“He’s got to tell us whether he’s going to sign the bill and make it law,” said Circuit Judge John Kinsella, who is presiding over a murder case in which the defendant could be eligible for the death penalty, according to a story in the Daily Herald. Kinsella said a death penalty trial would last longer and be more complicated.
The bill was sent to Quinn on Jan. 18. Under the Illinois Constitution, he has 60 days to make a decision.
Simon, who said the governor did not indicate which way he was leaning nor say when he would decide, said Quinn ought to be given the time he needs.
“I think this a very big decision, and I do not begrudge him the time to make it wisely,” she said.
A spokeswoman for Quinn said the governor wants to take the time to consider whether to continue the death penalty and that both Quinn and Simon agree it’s important to give people a chance to express themselves on the issue.