Illinois became the 16th State of the United States to abolish the death penalty when its Governor, Pat Quinn, announced the decision on Wednesday.
Mr. Quinn, a former supporter of capital punishment, said he believed a ban on the death penalty was justified so long as it was “impossible to devise a system that is consistent, that is free of discrimination on the basis of race, geography or economic circumstance, and that always gets it right.”
Commenting on how the innocent are sometimes placed on death row and executed Mr. Quinn noted that since 1977, Illinois had seen 20 people exonerated from death row, a record that said “should trouble us all.”
The Governor said because the criminal justice system was “broken” in this regard he would also be commuting the sentences of those currently on death row to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole or release.
He also said that there was no credible evidence that the death penalty had a deterrent effect on the crime of murder and that the “enormous sums” expended by the State in maintaining a death penalty system would be better spent on preventing crime and assisting victims' families in overcoming their pain and grief.
Anticipating some of the ire likely to come his way for the abolition of the death penalty he said that he had heard from family members who lost loved ones to murder that “maintaining a flawed death penalty system will not bring back their loved ones, will not help them to heal and will not bring closure to their pain.”
Mr. Quinn's action comes even as numerous U.S. states are experimenting with the cocktail of lethal drugs delivered to execute inmates. In particular the Oklahoma State Penitentiary used a veterinary anaesthetic drug called pentobarbital, more commonly used to put down dogs, to execute John Duty (58 last December.
This method of execution, which has fuelled debates on the death penalty constituting “cruel and unusual punishment,” followed after the sole manufacturer of barbiturate sodium thiopental in the United States, a company called Hospira, ran out of stock earlier last year and said that it did not expect to resume production until 2011.