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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn abolished the death penalty Wednesday, more than a decade after the state imposed a moratorium on executions out of concern that innocent people could be put to death by a justice system that had wrongly condemned 13 men.
Quinn also commuted the sentences of all 15 inmates remaining on Illinois’ death row. They will now serve life in prison.
State lawmakers voted in January to abandon capital punishment, and Quinn spent two months reflecting on the issue, speaking with prosecutors, victims’ families, death penalty opponents and religious leaders. He called it the “most difficult decision” he has made as governor.
“I think if you abolish the death penalty in Illinois, we should abolish it for everyone,” the governor said.
Illinois’ moratorium goes back to 2000, when then-Republican Gov. George Ryan made international headlines by suspending executions. He acted after years of growing doubts about the justices system and after courts threw out the death sentences of 13 condemned men.
Shortly before leaving office in 2003, Ryan also cleared death row, commuting the sentences of 167 inmates to life in prison. Illinois’ last execution was in 1999.
When the new law takes effect on July 1, Illinois will join 15 other states that have done away with the executions.
New Mexico had been the most recent state to repeal the death penalty, doing so in 2009, although new Republican Gov. Susana Martinez wants to reinstate it.
Quinn consulted with retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and met with Sister Helen Prejean, the inspiration for the movie “Dead Man Walking.”
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan appealed directly to Quinn to veto the bill, as did several county prosecutors and victims’ families. They said safeguards, including videotaped interrogations and easier access to DNA evidence, were in place to prevent innocent people from being wrongly executed.