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It’s OK to take your time

Friday, Jan 28, 2011

* I really see nothing wrong with Gov. Pat Quinn taking some time to decide what to do about the repeal of the death penalty. Others? Not so much, according to James Warren

“Is this theater?” said Jeremy Schroeder, executive director of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, when I asked about Mr. Quinn’s supposedly probing the innermost recesses of his soul.

“For goodness gracious, he claimed he was a reformer!” declared State Senator Dan Duffy of Lake Barrington, a Roman Catholic South Sider and die-hard Republican conservative who voted for abolition. “Quinn’s always trying to make everybody happy.”

The notion that there’s a bit of a sham under way has crossed minds. Might the governor’s helter-skelter ways include a search for cover before he disappoints death penalty supporters?

“You’d think it would be something he would have signed immediately,” said Senate President John J. Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat. “It would be dumb politically and dumb morally if he didn’t.”

Let’s go through these point by point.

Politics has always been at least partially about “theater.” You can’t just go off and break yet another campaign promise without laying some groundwork. You could call it political cover, you could also call it setting the stage. And if this is what Quinn is doing, then it’s fine by me. It’s smart politics and good governance.

Sen. Duffy complains that Quinn is always trying to make everybody happy. Duffy is not happy. Therefore, the point is moot, albeit mostly correct. This is a huge decision, however, and he ought to take his time.

The governor has long supported the death penalty. So, signing this bill immediately would’ve been hypocritical in the extreme. I’m willing to give him some space to get his head together on this thing. Cullerton should as well.

* But while Quinn mulls this over, he should carefully read a tremendous column penned by Jeff Engelhardt, a Public Affairs Reporting intern in the Daily Herald’s Springfield bureau. Jeff and my brother Devin are friends, and Devin has nothing but high praise for this young man, who has struggled with an unspeakable personal tragedy

On April 17, 2009, three members of my family were murdered.

My father, grandmother and 18-year-old sister were all stabbed to death in their own home. My mother was in critical condition and my older sister was left with her baby girl and the horrifying sights of what happened to her family.

I was feeling helpless, six hours away at Southern Illinois University.

It didn’t take long for the assistant state’s attorney to tell me they wanted to pursue the death penalty for the man accused of committing the terrible crime.

As the citizens of Illinois await the governor’s decision on the death penalty, it has given me another opportunity to contemplate what I would want done in my situation.

I live with what happened every day and have mulled over what I would like to see become of the man I believe took my family away. My vision was blurred for a while, but the decision became very clear after I remembered where I came from.

I am no governor, but I am my father’s son. And as my father’s son, that means I choose the path of forgiveness.

This is not a call to repeal the death penalty. Rather this is a declaration of dedication to a path of peace.

I hope Jeff eventually finds personal peace. That couldn’t have been easy to write. Go read the whole thing.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


23 Comments
  1. - Phineas J. Whoopee - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 1:25 pm:

    In certain cases, I think it is therapeutic for society to be able to terminate someone’s ticket. Whether it provides a deterrent-I’m really not sure, however, what do you do with a murderer who murders more folks while already in prison. Do you put him on double secret probation?

    I believe in forgiveness. That means that God will forgive me for killing my enemy. I consider mass murderers my enemy. I would pull the switch and repent later.


  2. - wordslinger - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 1:31 pm:

    Quinn faces a true life-and-death decision. Sober deliberation is appropriate and understandable.

    It’s easy to have opinions, but when your signature really makes a profound impact it can be another story.


  3. - jake - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 1:32 pm:

    Cullerton’s remark is a bit funny, since before the vote in the Senate, he said he would not urge his people to vote either way, but would respect their decision as a matter of individual conscience. He should give the Governor the same respect as he gave his members. That being said, I hope the Governor signs the repeal. I agree with Cullerton that is the right thing with respect to both politics (the trend line of opinion on this issue is clearly moving away from the death penalty) and policy (the death penalty does not make us safer and corrupts the criminal justice system by introducing an element of vengeance into it). I just think it is appropriate to give the Governor, who has always been a death penalty supporter, some time to rethink this issue.


  4. - Plutocrat03 - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 1:46 pm:

    Other than seeming to waste time, there is little to complain about with the delay in signing the bill.

    No one will be executed during the delay.

    If PQ will not sign the bill as his past statements would lead you to believe, then he has to be ready to defend his principles. Similarly, if he agrees to sign the bill, he will be blasted for giving up his beliefs.

    It is a lose lose position for him.


  5. - VanillaMan - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 1:55 pm:

    While the death penalty did not fail and still offers valid reasons to remain within our society, it’s application clearly failed, which resulted in the loss of innocent life.

    The death penalty requires a level of perfect certainty beyond our abilities to enact it morally. It is a life or death decision without do-overs.

    While we can clearly justify reasons for a level of punishment of it’s magnitude, and can make rational reasons for it to exist, all becomes null when an innocent person is forced to go through it.

    We are only human. Life is our most precious gift. Consequently there is no human way to create an error-free means to allow it’s termination. We must err on the side of life.


  6. - Dave Clarkin - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 2:29 pm:

    One of my closest friends was stabbed to death my senior year of high school. Chris was a well-loved honors student in my small hometown, senselessly murdered in his own home while his parents were away, by the jealous boyfriend of a girl he was tutoring in Calculus.

    Almost 23 years later, there’s hardly a day and never a week that goes by that I don’t think of him and miss him.

    I sometimes wonder how my life would have been different if we’d attended U of I together as we’d planned. Would we still be friends? Would he have been among the band of Merry Men from my childhood at my wedding? Would we see each other during the holidays, or not at all?

    But one thing I know for sure: his murderer’s execution probably would have distracted me from my pain 23 years ago, but it would provide me no solace today.

    Every friend and every family member of every victim feels differently, and I don’t begrudge any of them. They’ve more than earned their right to opine on the ultimate power of government within a society.

    But I do have a beef with death penalty proponents who claim to speak for all victims. They do not speak for me.


  7. - humbled one - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 2:58 pm:

    VM - Life ‘is’ our most precious gift…which is why there must be consequences to those who take it upon themselves to relinquish the life of their victims. There are situations ‘beyond doubt’ and in those cases, the consequences should be clear. You take a life, you should forfeit your own. With enforced consequences I wonder the impact on frequency.


  8. - irv & ashland - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 3:12 pm:

    First, my New York Times didn’t have the Chgo page today, so I was wondering what happened. Seeing Warren’s column linked, I guess they just shipped the wrong papers to my 7-11 this morning.

    Second, I know foreign affairs isn’t your topic, but in honor of today’s events, I thought I’d suggest Rock the Casbah and Right Here, Right Now for today’s Friday musical sign-off.


  9. - Christine Kaplan - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 3:32 pm:

    I for one will be extremely happy when Quinn finally gets around to signing this bill. Although I do find it laughable that he said he was consulting with constituents. What it is, over 60% of Illinoisians want the DP eliminated?

    I was one of those law and order types that used to scream for blood, saying it was retribution, punishment, and a deterrence, well we have all seen that it is not a deterrent at all, never will be; because most murders are acts of passion and people do not think when acting out of passion.

    Get it over with Quinn and do the right thing!


  10. - Jaded - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 3:39 pm:

    If Cullerton says sign the bill, then I am sure Quinn will sign the bill. I wonder if all the anti-bullying laws apply to legislative leaders, because they will be pushing Quinn around for 4 more years.


  11. - jaranath - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 3:40 pm:

    I could nitpick the column, but given the subject, that would be cruel. And I love this quote: “So we should all make the most of the time we have with each other, even those who have wronged us.”

    Phineas: You take an interesting position. Do you honestly believe that your god would look favorably upon it? That you could (as you believe) sin comfortably in anticipation of assured forgiveness? Some argue that even if salvation comes from faith, not acts, that acts are a consequence of faith. In that context, how do you think your proposed act would reflect upon your faith? And what if there is no God, no absolution? You would bear the full weight of your act. You may be willing to; I merely point out the possibility since you seemed to count the ability to shed responsibility as an important factor.


  12. - What's in a name? - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 3:42 pm:

    VM’s comments were most eloquent. I find the comments of those whose lives have been impacted by murder quite enlightening. I have long been against the death penalty. Two basic reasons: first, we are humans and our institutions are human and subject to making errors. The possibility of executing an innocent person can not be eliminated. Second, at some level a society that doesn’t execute murderers is making a statement that life, even the life of a murderer, has value.

    That said I have reflected on how I would feel if a loved one was murdered. I have little doubt given the opportunity I would impose the death penalty myself. By supporting a death penalty ban, I wondered if I was denying the victim’s families some sense of justice.

    I am heartened to read Dave Clarkin and Jeff Engelhardt’s words. they have suffered the worst and maintained their humanity.

    As to Gov. Quinn, I may take issue with some of his actions and decisions but I think almost everyone agrees that he is basically a good man trying to do the best he can. If he needs time to decide, let him have it.


  13. - Small Town Liberal - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 3:50 pm:

    - because they will be pushing Quinn around for 4 more years. -

    Yeah, Cullerton really pushed Quinn around on his appointments.


  14. - Loop Lady - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 3:53 pm:

    Quinn has alot on his plate…I am concerned more about getting the Capital Bill rectified before he makes a decision on the abolishment of the death penalty. Besides, no matter how he comes down on this, his decision will alienate a substancial number of the electorate…let it be folks…


  15. - Jaded - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 4:00 pm:

    ===Yeah, Cullerton really pushed Quinn around on his appointments===

    Did Quinn re-issue the temporary appointments before Lisa Madigan rode to his rescue? I believe he did? Getting his way with the Governor has been so easy for Cullerton he just pushed it too far.


  16. - Freezeup - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 4:07 pm:

    I do not envy Gov. Quinn’s decision. I am confirmed “law and order”, “tough on criminals” type but there is no obvious best path here for me.

    It has always been my opinion that the DP is appropriate when considered on a case by case basis. It seems like the problems would work themselves out and only the overwhelmingly guilty of the most heinous crimes would be put to death. It sure doesn’t seem that we can rely on ourselves to do the right thing given what has happened here in Illinois over the years.

    It has always been in the back of my mind that perhaps a death penalty for criminals who murder police officers to escape or that murder the corrections officers that keep us safe from them would be reasonable. Yet I fear that the death penalty in even those cases may cause unintended consequences. Example: Is there another better way for a prison inmate to achieve a sick kind of fame than to kill a guard and be one of the few to sit on a modern day death row? There has to be a better solution.

    This is a tough one. Give the man some time to decide, the responsibility is enormous.


  17. - Small Town Liberal - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 4:09 pm:

    - Did Quinn re-issue the temporary appointments before Lisa Madigan rode to his rescue? -

    Did Quinn keep Monken even though Cullerton refused to confirm him? Pretty sure he did, must have been trembling in his boots the entire time.


  18. - Jaded - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 4:13 pm:

    You’re right, STL, he’s 1 for 50. That’s a pillar of strength you got yourself down there in that glass office.


  19. - The Truth - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 4:14 pm:

    Yeah… Richard Speck had a tough life in prison. Smoking dope and working toward a sex change and had a free run of stateville. He had a celebrity status in prison. I know this because one of my good friends worked there at the time. John Wayne Gacy… I guess could have been right there if the liberals would have had their way.

    Well… anyway… a tough decision… but a majority of people think it should be reserved for the worst crimes.


  20. - Small Town Liberal - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 4:33 pm:

    - You’re right, STL, he’s 1 for 50. -

    You’re right Jaded, with all of the examples you’ve provided of Cullerton pushing Quinn around I can’t imagine why I didn’t agree with you immediately.


  21. - Comment - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 4:40 pm:

    Senator Cullerton put his morality hat on and he said that morality does apply to CP. Does his same hat tell him that it doesn’t apply to abortion. Will he now understand pro-life people that argue morality with such conviction on abortions?

    I respect the Senator but his comments are begging the question… Thanks.


  22. - Wensicia - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 4:51 pm:

    He should think about this, but when does his pondering become an issue to be questioned? How long can he drag this out before people have a right to say “Give us an answer!”


  23. - Jim - Monday, Jan 31, 11 @ 11:46 am:

    I do not dispute the reality that all the horrific mistakes surrounding death penalty cases in Illinois show the system has failed. That said, repeal is a legitimate option.
    Further, I respect the young man whose family members were killed to oppose the death penalty. That’s his opinion, and it’s his right to express it.
    But before we cede the moral high ground to him as a victim, it’s fair to ask if we would cede similar moral high ground to a crime victim who was not so forgiving and thought the killer of his family members should be executed. I doubt death penalty abolitionists would do that. Why should supporters of the death penalty do what the abolitionists refuse to do?


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