Death Penalty Divides Hopefuls

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Byline: Natasha Korecki Daily Herald Legal Affairs Writer

Cook County State's Attorney Dick Devine calls Illinois' dealing with the death penalty "schizophrenic," because even as prosecutors seek death sentences, a moratorium keeps convicts from being executed.

But Tommy Brewer, Devine's opponent in the March primary, wants a moratorium to stand for 20 years at minimum, though he said he would still pursue death penalty cases if he's elected.

It will take at least two decades, Brewer said, to repair problems in the criminal justice system and to win back the public trust.

"I think the death penalty is a legitimate government sanction," Brewer said. "But the government has to earn that right to do that."

Brewer is challenging Devine in Tuesday's primary election. Both are running as Democrats. The winner will go on to the November election and face Republican Phillip Spiwak, who is running unopposed.

But Devine said the public - and lawmakers - need to decide now: restore the death penalty in a way everyone agrees upon or get rid of it. The current situation only puts more strain on victims' families, he said.

"In theory we have the death penalty; in practice we do not. (It) creates a schizophrenic condition for the criminal justice system," Devine said. "We have it because it's the law. And if it's not the law, we'll enforce that too."

The debate comes after death penalty reform legislation went into effect this January - one year after then-Gov. George Ryan emptied death row.

Ryan imposed a moratorium on all executions in 2000 after 13 men had been exonerated from death row - one more than the number of those executed in Illinois since 1977. Ryan later pardoned four others. The moratorium still stands with no scheduled expiration date.

Brewer, 53, of Evanston, a self-employed attorney, worked as a criminal defense lawyer for 26 years and in the Cook County state's attorney's office for four years. Devine, 60, is seeking his third term as state's attorney. The office carries a four-year term and pays $160,196 annually.

In an interview with the Daily Herald editorial board, Brewer criticized Devine for not doing enough to fix a troubled system, including preventing false confessions. …