Sunday, 4 March 2007

State one of many rethinking execution

March 4, 2007


State one of many rethinking execution

Abolition bills up in over a dozen legislatures

BY MIKE RAMSEY, State Journal-Register

CHICAGO - A long-shot bill to repeal the death penalty in Illinois is one of
nearly 20 measures in legislatures across the country that would suspend or
permanently end state executions.

Even with a continuing moratorium on lethal injections in Illinois, a group
of Democratic state senators from Chicago last week announced legislation to
abolish capital punishment here. Proponents cited past wrongful convictions
and said the public cost of prosecuting capital defendants would better be
spent on assisting the families of murder victims.

That suggestion to shift resources also has been made in New Jersey, which
is a contender to become the first state to abolish a death-penalty statute
in more than 30 years. A task force there recently urged lawmakers to
consider a repeal bill, and New Jersey Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine - a
Taylorville native and former U.S. senator from New Jersey - has signaled he
would sign one.

Meanwhile, repeal bills have been introduced in 14 other legislatures while
two state governments are considering moratoriums on executions, according
to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C. The abolition
measures have gained some traction in Montana, New Mexico and Maryland,
where Gov. Martin O'Malley has called for a repeal.

"The reality is only a few may pass this year" said Richard Dieter,
executive director of the information center. "But if even one passes, it
would be historic."

Only 12 states do not have a death penalty. While some legislatures consider
joining that group, a handful of assemblies, including Virginia's, are
reviewing potential expansions of capital punishment by adding
death-eligible offenses.

Chances seem bleak for the Illinois repeal bill, which was filed last month
by state Sens. Rickey Hendon, Mattie Hunter and Kwame Raoul. Observers agree
that lawmakers do not face a pressing need to deal with the emotional issue
of capital punishment.

Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich has kept in place the moratorium on
executions that his Republican predecessor, George Ryan, imposed in 2000,
and has indicated he's in no rush to lift it.

Only 10 prisoners have entered Illinois Death Row since Ryan cleared it in
2003 by switching the 167 occupants to life sentences in prison. Ryan said
he doubted the fairness of the death penalty, following a series of
exonerations and reversed sentences in Illinois.

"A moratorium removes the immediacy and allows us to live in a gray area
very comfortably,

" said state Rep. Marlow Colvin, a Chicago Democrat who
co-sponsored a repeal bill in 2003.

Colvin, chairman of the House Black Caucus, said a rollback of capital
punishment is not a top legislative priority for his group this year. He
recalled that the House bill he co-sponsored four years ago was about 15
votes short of having the necessary support to pass his chamber.

Also giving Illinois lawmakers a reason to delay a contentious debate is the
Capital Punishment Reform Study Committee. The task force of legal experts
and lawmakers is about halfway through a five-year study of a bundle of
capital-punishment reforms enacted in 2003. The legal safeguards include
requiring police departments to record murder confessions, to remove doubts
about coerced statements.

Panel member Kirk Dillard, a Republican state senator from Hinsdale who
supports the death penalty, said the committee should be allowed to complete
its evaluations. But he said the group's mission should grow to consider the
taxpayer cost of running a capital punishment system versus keeping the
worst offenders behind bars for life without chance of parole.


Source : State Journal-Register

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