DuPage Prosecutor Presents View on Capital Punishment to Senate Panel

Article excerpt

Byline: Christy Gutowski

One of DuPage County's top prosecutors just returned from Washington, D.C., where he spoke before a senate panel about Illinois' death penalty.

John Kinsella, first-assistant state's attorney, was asked to give a prosecutor's view of capital punishment since Gov. George Ryan's moratorium.

The 21-year prosecutor pointed out many in his field regard the moratorium as unconstitutional, because they argue the governor does not have authority to abolish a state law.

Prosecutors across the state still seek capital punishment, Kinsella told senators, and judges continue to impose the sentence. The punishment has been affirmed by higher courts.

The Illinois Supreme Court, however, has not issued any execution dates since the moratorium because the attorney general, out of respect for the governor, has not sought such an order.

"The only actual consequence to date has been that many capital cases have been procedurally put on hold for three years, still leaving the remaining issues in those cases unresolved," Kinsella said.

The senate panel, chaired by Sen. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, was convened June 12 to highlight the steps taken in Illinois to fix its system of capital punishment after 13 innocent men were exonerated from death row.

Kinsella, who has tried more than 100 felony cases, including capital murders, said prosecutors as a group support a majority of the recommendations made by the governor's commission examining the state's death penalty system.

Still, several of the proposals will not enhance the ability of police or prosecutors to investigate or try a case, he said. In fact, some prosecutors argue the changes are so restrictive that, if enacted, the death penalty will be impossible to impose.

The governor's commission voted to abolish the death penalty in Illinois.

Kinsella also told federal lawmakers about the reforms that have been enacted into law since the moratorium. Prosecutors had a hand in crafting many of the changes. They include new training standards, the creation of a trust fund to finance the defense of indigent defendants and expanded DNA testing, among others.

"The new rules are designed to afford greater protections to the accused and to assure a far greater degree of confidence in the judgements of the court," Kinsella said. …