Magazine article The Christian Century

A Historic Ban

Magazine article The Christian Century

A Historic Ban

Article excerpt

AFTER WEEKS OF deliberation, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn on Ash Wednesday signed a bill abolishing the death penalty in Illinois. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, author Scott Turow, Sister Helen Prejean (author of Dead Man Walking) and many others urged Quinn to sign the bill, while State Attorney General Lisa Madigan and many prosecuting attorneys urged him to veto it. I added my name to a list of Chicagoans opposed to the death penalty.

Since 2000, Illinois has had a moratorium on the death penalty. Earlier, a group of Northwestern journalism students had started to investigate the death penalty and discovered that out of 25 cases since 1977, juries and judges had convicted and sentenced to death 13 people who were later found to be innocent; in other words, Illinois very nearly executed 13 innocent people. At that point then governor George Ryan declared: "When I was a pharmacist, I couldn't have stayed in business if I got it right only 50 percent of the time." In 2003 Ryan took 167 people off of death row.

A Roman Catholic, Quinn listened to Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, consulted the Bible and remembered the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin's words: "In a complex, sophisticated democracy like ours, means other than the death penalty are available and can be used to protect society."

Everyone agrees that executing innocent people is unacceptable. But what about the guilty, the confessed, the remorseless, the perhaps proud killer? I learned a lot about this issue from a member of my congregation, Jeanne Bishop. …

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