CHICAGO - Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has said he supports capital punishment if it's fairly applied, but one of his Republican predecessors felt so uneasy about the state's power to mete out the ultimate punishment that he placed a moratorium on executions that has lasted for the past 11 years.
On Wednesday, Quinn plans to abolish Illinois' death penalty at a signing ceremony in his capital offices, according to two sponsors of the legislation, State Rep. Karen Yarbrough and state Sen. Kwame Raoul, who said they were invited to witness the event.
"It's going to happen," Raoul said.
Quinn's signature would make Illinois the 16th state without capital punishment when it takes effect July 1. But a decision to sign has not come easily.
Quinn's office declined to comment Tuesday about his intentions, but he has said he personally supports the death penalty when properly implemented and would make a decision on the bill based on his conscience.
"I've heard from many, many people of good faith and good conscience on both sides of the issue. And I've tried to be very meticulous and writing down notes and studying those notes and books and e-mails. They've really spoken from the heart. I've been very proud of the people of Illinois," Quinn said recently.
Among those the governor consulted with were prosecutors, murder victims' families, death penalty opponents and religious leaders. Quinn even heard from retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and met with Sister Helen Prejean, the inspiration for the movie "Dead Man Walking."
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan appealed directly to Quinn to veto the bill, as did several county prosecutors and victims' families. They said safeguards, including videotaped interrogations and easier access to DNA evidence, were in place to prevent innocent people from being wrongly executed.
But death penalty opponents argued that there was still no guarantee that an innocent person couldn't be put to death. Even Quinn's own lieutenant governor, Sheila Simon, a former southern Illinois prosecutor, asked him to abolish capital punishment.
Illinois' last execution was in 1999, a year before then-Gov. George Ryan imposed a moratorium on capital punishment after the death sentences of 13 men were overturned. Ryan cleared death row before leaving office in 2003 by commuting the death sentences of 167 inmates to life in prison.
If Quinn were to sign the bill, it is unclear how that would affect the 15 inmates currently on Illinois' death row.
New Mexico was the most recent state to repeal the death penalty, in 2009, but new Republican Gov. Susana Martinez wants to reinstate it. The District of Columbia also doesn't have the death penalty.
Prosecutors would still be able to seek the death penalty and juries could still impose it until the law took effect.