Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation March 9 abolishing the death penalty in that state and in a subsequent speech vowed to commute the sentences of the 15 men currently on death row.
He came to the decision—which he called the most difficult he’s made as governor—after conversations with prosecutors, families of crime victims, elected officials and religious leaders including retired Anglican Archbishop and anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu of South Africa.
“I have concluded that our system of imposing the death penalty is inherently flawed,” Quinn said in a statement, adding that he is convinced “it is impossible to devise a system that is consistent, that is free of discrimination on the basis of race, geography or economic circumstance, and that always gets it right.”
The law takes effect July 1, and Quinn pledged to circumvent the ruling against any convicted criminal who might receive the death sentence until then, a governor’s spokeswoman told the Associated Press.
The 15 current death row inmates the governor exonerates will have their sentences modified to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Quinn’s passage of the bill makes Illinois the 16th state without the death penalty. The punishment was abolished in Washington, D.C. in 1981 and is the source of heated debate in Maryland’s General Assembly this year.
Gary Gauger, who sat on death row for murdering his parents until he was later proven innocent, calls the penalty antiquated.
“The death penalty is a throwback to a time when society did not have the ability to hold homicidal maniacs…for the rest of their lives,” he told the Associated Press.
But the death sentence still has many proponents in Illinois. One state’s attorney said the passage of the abolition bill was a “victory for murderers” while an Illinois republican said the governor will suffer politically if he seeks re-election.
Quinn stood firm in his decision and promised to shut down any new versions or amendments to the death penalty by state legislators.
“As I heard from family members who lost loved ones to murder, maintaining a flawed death penalty system will not bring back their loved ones, will not help them to heal and will not bring closure to their pain,” he said in the statement. “We must instead devote our resources toward the prevention of crime and the needs of victims’ families, rather than spending more money to preserve a flawed system.”