Illinois Senate Votes to Abolish Death Penalty

Measure awaits governor's signature

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    393846 05: A view of the death chamber from the witness room at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility shows an electric chair and gurney August 29, 2001 in Lucasville, Ohio. The state of Ohio is one of the few states that still uses the electric chair, and it gives death row inmates a choice between death by the electric chair or by lethal injection. John W. Byrd, who will be executed on September 12, 2001, has stated that he will choose the electric chair. (Photo by Mike Simons/Getty Images)

    The future of the death penalty in Illinois is now up to Gov. Pat Quinn.

    With a 32-25 vote, the state Senate voted Tuesday to abolish the practice.

    The Illinois House approved the measure last week. It's not clear what Quinn will do with the bill -- SB3539. The Chicago Democrat supports the death penalty but he also has continued the long-standing moratorium on executions.

    If he signs it, Illinois would be the fourth state since 2007 and the fifteenth altogether to rid its books of capital punishment.

    Critics say the state's capital punishment system is fundamentally flawed and could wind up killing an innocent person.  They say reforms made after a spate of wrongful convictions don't offer enough protection.

    "We have a historic opportunity today, an opportunity to part company with countries that are the worst civil rights violators and join the civilized world by ending this practice of putting to death innocent people," said Sen. Kwame Raoul, the Chicago Democrat who sponsored the measure.

    Supporters say Illinois should keep the ultimate punishment for the most serious crimes.

    "It's not a question of vengeance,'' said Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton. "It's a question of the people being outraged at such terrible crimes, such bloodletting."

    Last week's action by the House drew varied response on NBC Chicago's Facebook page:

    "Our state is in debt, and there is no need to have vicious criminals costing us millions of tax dollars each year. I admit that should not be the matter in the majority of cases, but I do believe that it should be used on repeat offenders," read a comment from Danny Rigoni.

    An opposing viewpoint came from Ken Swanson, who said: "I used to be against the death penalty on principal, but now I am simply against it in practice. There have been far too many individuals wrongly convicted and sentenced to death to believe that the system is sufficiently safeguarded against an innocent person paying the ultimate penalty."