Illinois Says Goodbye to Death Row

State officially shuts down the death chamber.

Posted: 07/05/2011 05:41 PM EDT

Illinois has officially shut down its death row.

 

On Friday, a law abolishing death sentences in Illinois went into effect after decades of complaints from families whose lives were destroyed after their loved ones were sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit.

 

It was on March 2, 2011, when Gov. Pat Quinn signed the bill into law, making Illinois the 16th state to abolish capital punishment.

 

At the time, Black leaders were very pleased with the move.

 

"The whole system is really stacked," the Rev. Jesse Jackson said in March after Quinn signed the ban into law. "You look at the percentages of Blacks in prison, on death row and [even] traffic tickets and it's obvious that race is clearly a strong factor in the criminal justice process. I'm just glad that the governor went and signed it into law."

 

Quinn also commuted the sentences of 15 death row inmates—four of whom are Black—to life in prison without parole.

 

Since 1977 the state has executed twelve men. There have not been any executions since 1999, but in 2000 just 48 hours before a man was to be executed, he was declared innocent. Under the leadership of then-Republican Gov. George Ryan the sentences of 13 inmates with similar stories were overturned. He called the state’s capital punishment system, "haunted by the demon of error."

 

And since 1973, more than 130 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund reports that as of Fall 2010, Blacks made up 42 percent of death row inmates, whites represented 44 percent and Hispanics 12 percent.

 

(Photo: AP Photo/Illinois Information Service/Randy Squires)

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