Death Penalty, RIP

Capital punishment in Illinois


In 2000 Illinois Gov. George Ryan, a Republican, imposed a temporary moratorium on executions due to concerns that his state was condemning innocent men to death. Now the state seems to be on the verge of making that moratorium permanent.

Of the 298 men convicted of capital murder in Illinois since the death penalty returned in 1976, 20 have been exonerated. That's a rate of 6 percent, the highest in the country.

Ryan acted after a series of reports by Northwestern University's Medill Innocence Project and the Chicago Tribune revealed flaws in how death penalty cases were tried in Illinois. More DNA exonerations emerged during the next few years, and in 2003, just a few days before leaving office, Ryan commuted the sentences of all 167 Illinois death row inmates to life in prison. His moratorium on executions has been in effect ever since, although additional state residents have since been sentenced to death.

In January, after an often-contentious debate in a lame-duck session, the Illinois House and Senate both voted to repeal the death penalty. At press time, Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, had not decided whether to sign or veto the bill. If the measure becomes law, Illinois will be one of just 13 states with no death penalty.