Illinois' History of Capital Punishment

Gov. Pat Quinn is scheduled to sign the death penalty’s death warrant today, ending a 232-year history of capital punishment in Illinois, during which the state rid the world of 360 alleged murderers, rapists and witches. As we say goodbye to death, let’s take a look back at some of Illinois’ most memorable executions.

June 15, 1779: In the territorial government’s first execution, a slave named Manuel is burned to death for witchcraft. Manuel is the first and only alleged witch executed in Illinois, and the only man put to death by fire.

May 23, 1845: Elizabeth Reed is hanged in Lawrence County for poisoning her husband with arsenic. According to a newspaper story, the first woman executed in Illinois “died as though she had the strengthening sense of a mission fulfilled which upheld Joan of Arc and Charlotte Corday. While the Methodist minister preached a long funeral discourse she acted like she was in the Amen Corner of a log church and endorsed all the preacher said. Her fervid responses alone disturbed the perfect quietude of the scene; the multitude remained perfectly silent.”

July 14, 1927: In a rare triple-header, Charles Duschowski, Walter Stalesky and Robert Torrez are hanged in front of the Will County Jail for killing a prison warden. It was the last public execution in Illinois.

August 15, 1962: James Dukes is electrocuted in the basement of the Cook County Jail for the murder of a Chicago police detective. It’s the last use of the electric chair, and the last execution in Cook County. It will be nearly 30 years before Illinois kills another prisoner.

May 10, 1994: As a 1,000-member mob screams “kill the clown,” serial killer John Wayne Gacy is put to death by lethal injection at Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill. The execution is delayed when chemicals clog the IV tube, causing the executioners to draw the blinds for several minutes while they fix the problem. Gacy’s last words are reportedly “kiss my ass.”

March 25, 1995: Hernando Williams is executed for rape and murder, a month after becoming an issue in a Chicago aldermanic race. Before he committed his crime, Williams was married to Shirley Coleman, who became alderman of the 16th Ward. When this came to light, Coleman’s opponent, Hal Baskin, remarked that “she may not have been giving the man what he needed at home.” Coleman won the election. (Baskin is still running for alderman. He’s a candidate in next month’s run-off against incumbent JoAnn Thompson.)

March 17, 1999: After a long night of soul searching, Gov. George Ryan signs a death warrant for satanic killer Andrew Kokoraleis. It will be the last execution in Illinois. Shortly afterward, Ryan declares a moratorium on the death penalty, disturbed by evidence that over a dozen Death Row prisoners were actually innocent.

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