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Illinois governor abolishes death penalty, commutes sentences

Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn.
(UPI/Bill Greenblatt)
Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has abolished the state's death penalty.

The Democrat signed legislation Wednesday abandoning capital punishment, two months after Illinois lawmakers voted to do the same and more than a decade after former Gov. George Ryan imposed a moratorium because of concern that innocent people could be put to death.

Illinois now joins 15 other states that have done away with the death penalty. The new law takes effect July 1.

Ryan imposed the moratorium in 2000, after the death sentences of 13 men were overturned. Ryan also cleared death row before leaving office in 2003 by commuting the sentences of 167 condemned inmates to life in prison.

Quinn has spent the last two months consulting with prosecutors, victims' families, death penalty opponents and religious leaders. Illinois' attorney general was among those asking for a veto, saying safeguards are in place to prevent wrongful executions.

Sentences also commuted

Quinn has also commuted the death sentences of 15 prisoners who faced the death penalty.

Quinn acted Wednesday moments after he abolished Illinois' death penalty. By changing their sentences to life in prison, Quinn emptied the state's death row, meaning that Illinois may never execute another person.

This is the second time an Illinois governor has cleared death row. Republican George Ryan did it a decade ago because of concerns that an innocent person might be put to death.

Since then, prosecutors have occasionally still sought death sentences, leading to a slow build-up on death row. But no one has been executed because of the state's moratorium on carrying out death sentences.

Quinn's "most difficult decision" as governor

Quinn calls abolishing the death penalty the "most difficult decision" he's made as governor.

The Chicago Democrat says if you abolish the death penalty you have to do it for everyone. The law goes into effect July 1.

Quinn offered words of consolation to victims' families, saying that the "family of Illinois" was with them. He says he understands they'll never be healed from what happened to them.

Prosecutors and some victims' families had urged Quinn not to abolish the death penalty.

List of inmates with sentences commuted

Here are the dates the inmates were placed on death row, followed by their name and a brief description of the crime for which they were convicted:

     1: Feb. 27, 2003 - Anthony Mertz, for the rape, killing and
mutilation of an Eastern Illinois University student.
     2: April 26, 2004 - Ricardo Harris, after conviction for killing
two Oak Lawn liquor store employees and hurting two people during a
     3: April 26, 2004 - Teodoro Baez, for killing two people and
dismembering their bodies with a sword after a drug dispute.
     4: June 16, 2004 - Cecil Sutherland, for sexually assaulting and
killing a 10-year-old Marion County girl.
     5: August 17, 2004 - Andrew Urdiales, for the murder of a
21-year-old Hammond woman.
    6: July 11, 2005 - Joseph Bannister, after conviction for
shooting his ex-girlfriend and killing her sister.
     7: June 6, 2006 - Paul Runge, for raping, killing and setting on
fire a mother and her 10-year-old daughter.
    8: Sept. 25, 2006 - Dion Banks, for killing a woman during a
     9: May 23, 2007 - Daniel Ramsey, after conviction for raping and
killing a girl, shooting to death another girl and hurting three
other people.
    10: Aug. 8, 2007 - Rodney Adkins, for killing an Oak Park woman
after breaking into her home.
    11: March 21, 2008 - Gary Pate, for killing his wife and
    12: May 1, 2008 - Eric Hanson, for killing his sister and
brother-in-law and his parents.
    13: Oct. 21, 2008 - David Damm, for hiring an acquaintance to
kill a 13-year-old girl to silence her accusations of sexual abuse.
    14: Dec. 16, 2009 - Brian Dugan, for the kidnapping, rape and
murder of a 10-year-old suburban Chicago girl.
    15: March 3, 2010 - Edward Tenney, for killing a 24-year-old
Aurora man during a robbery.

Via AP, Source: News archives and the Illinois Department of Corrections