Tuesday, March 22, 2011

When it comes to death penalty (or lack thereof), some just want to complain

I don’t doubt there are some people who will be permanently peeved that Gov. Pat Quinn signed the bill that did away with the capital crimes statute in Illinois. Some probably will hold a grudge against Quinn, the man, for the remainder of their lives.
QUINN: 47 percent of Dems disapprove?

The question, however, is just how much attention should Quinn (whom a new poll says has only a 30.6 percent approval rating) pay to these people?

I’D ARGUE THAT the reason prosecutors are so intense for having a death penalty in this state is because they allowed these individuals to intimidate them. Because these death penalty proponents, particularly the ones who remain bitter over the loss of a loved one due to a violent crime, can be a forceful presence.

The issue, as I see it, is that a governor has to balance out all the sides on this particular issue before taking a stance. As much as I wonder why it took Quinn nearly two full months to do so before he finally signed the death penalty abolition bill into law, I do believe he listened to all the sides and tried to figure out the issue for himself.

Apparently, he didn’t listen to every single individual, since we have been getting reports in various publications, including the Chicago Sun-Times, from a Rolling Meadows woman whose daughter is dead, and the man convicted of murder for that crime had his death sentence converted to a prison term of life-without-parole.

The woman is going around saying she is so upset with the governor that she will actively campaign against him in 2014, and would be willing to make a heart-felt, soppy campaign ad for whomever tries to challenge the Mighty Quinn in the next gubernatorial election,.

SHE IS UPSET that her attempts to talk to the governor to convince him (if not intimidate him) to keep the death penalty got her nothing more than a chance to talk to a gubernatorial aide. Perhaps she really believes she could have persuaded Quinn to act differently.

I doubt it, since Quinn did include advocates for the families of victims of capital crimes among the types of people he talked to. The fact that he didn’t talk to this specific woman doesn’t move me in any way.

Now I know some prosecutorial types who argue that death penalty opponents do not adequately take into account these family members and their sentiments when we talk about the death penalty being improper.

As though the fact that the death penalty system has flaws that likely are never to be overcome because human beings are fallible by nature doesn’t matter. My guess is that some people would rather have the occasional wrongly-convicted person put to death, than have to do anything that might offend these particular people.

MY OWN FEELINGS about this particular aspect of the death penalty debate actually got cemented following state government hearings a decade ago in Chicago that then-Gov. George Ryan hoped would expose the flaws in the system and how close Illinois came during the 1990s to putting innocent people to death, in the name of Justice!

Instead, activist groups that back the death penalty managed to load up the agenda with testimony from so many family members who told their stories to such an intense degree that the mood of intimidation came down upon those hearings.

Any attempt to build support for a reformed death penalty procedure got crushed amidst gruesome stories. The General Assembly wound up passing nothing in the way of reform. I remain convinced that had the state Legislature given Ryan some bill to sign that he could have claimed was a procedural reform, he never would have taken the drastic action of his final days in office that brought a halt to actual executions and also commuted the death sentences of the 160-plus condemned inmates in Illinois.

If there is anyone I have sympathy for these days, it is not these family members. It is the people in the State Appellate Defender’s office, some 37 of whom are now learning that their jobs are being cut.

THE HERALD & Review newspaper of Decatur reported that the move is meant to save state government about $4.7 million. I have no problem with budget cuts, and realize that people are going to lose their jobs – regardless of how unpleasant that experience is.

But these particular individuals are losing their jobs because they were the attorneys provided to indigent “death row” inmates to help them with their legal appeals – which were mandatory. They had to be heard by the courts.

Which is why it is cheaper for the state to do without the death penalty. An inmate in the general population whose appeals can be dismissed by the courts as frivolous is much cheaper than a condemned inmate kept under much more intense security whose appeals must be heard through three rounds that must end at the Supreme Court of the United States.

So while I realize it is a “good” thing that the state budget can be cut, I still sympathize with those attorneys who now need to find new work. Of course, I suspect the family members probably think those attorneys ARE the problem for taking on these particular cases. But that is an issue to be debated on another day.


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