Women and the Death Penalty in the United States, 1900-1998

By Kathleen A. O'Shea | Go to book overview

12
Illinois: Lethal Injection

The state of Illinois has sentenced seven women to death since 1900. One woman, Marie Porter, was executed, and there are three women on death row in Illinois today.

Since the death penalty was re-enacted June 21, 1977, there have been 251 death sentences in Illinois. The Illinois Department of Corrections received its first female inmate with a death sentence in 1991. Women on death row are held at the Dwight Correctional Center, located approximately 75 miles south of Chicago. This facility was opened in November 1930 as the Oakdale Reformatory for Women. Later it was named the Illinois State Reformatory for Women and in, August 1973, it was renamed the Dwight Correctional Center.

Between 1928 and 1962 there were 98 executions in Illinois. Thirteen of these took place at the Stateville Correctional Center. Old Sparky, the electric chair, was designed to deliver an initial 15-second jolt of electricity at 600 volts followed by a second charge of 2,400 volts. The last man executed in the chair, died in relative obscurity on August 24, 1962 at the Cook County jail in Chicago. His name was James Dukes. Dukes, a former Post Office employee, was arrested in 1956 for the fatal shooting of a police detective. Dukes, who was black, was convicted by an all-white jury. A few months after the execution of Dukes executions were stopped in Illinois.

The Illinois death penalty law was 12 years old and had never been used, in 1989, when it was ruled unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge, Harold A. Baker of Danville, Illinois. The ruling came as a result of the case of a man who had murdered two sisters in Danville in 1980. At the time Baker said the death penalty in Illinois was exercised in an "arbitrary and capricious" manner because it granted too much discretion to state prosecutors. In addition, the judge said, the law was constitutionally defective because it did not require prosecutors to disclose whether they planned to seek the death penalty until after a defendant was convicted.

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