Panel OKs legislation to end Illinois death penalty

By: Kurt Erickson
Tuesday, November 30, 2010

SPRINGFIELD -- A panel of lawmakers narrowly approved legislation Tuesday to abolish the death penalty in Illinois.

Over the opposition of Republican members and local prosecutors, the House Judiciary Committee voted 4-3 in favor of ending capital punishment as a sentencing option.

"It's time to end state-sponsored homicide in Illinois," said state Rep. Karen Yarbrough, D-Chicago, who is sponsoring the measure.

The state hasn't executed people since former Gov. George Ryan halted executions in 2000. Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Gov. Pat Quinn have continued the unofficial moratorium on executions.

Opponents said the death penalty serves as a deterrent to crime and admonished supporters for trying to move the legislation during the short two-week veto session.

Peoria County State's Attorney Kevin Lyons said supporters are "rushing to judgment" on an issue that needs more study.

Supporters say the measure could be voted on by the full House as early as Tuesday afternoon. It remained unclear following the committee hearing whether there is enough support for the proposal to move to the Senate for further action.

Ryan stopped executions after it was discovered that 13 people had been wrongfully sent to death row. Jeremy Schroeder, executive director of the Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said the time that has passed in the interim shows its time to make the moratorium permanent.

"Ten years of limbo is long enough," Schroeder said.

Former death row inmate Randy Steidl, who was released from death row in 2004 after serving 12 years for two murders he did not commit, said giving violent criminals life without the chance of being released is more of a punishment.

"If the State of Illinois had their way, I would be dead today," Steidl said