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Today’s number: $122 million

Monday, Feb 28, 2011

* From a Tribune editorial urging Gov. Pat Quinn to sign the death penalty abolition bill that’s sitting on his desk

Taxpayers have spent more than $122 million in 10 years to send 15 new prisoners to death row, but the moratorium remains in place because the system can’t be trusted. That’s why lawmakers passed the bill that awaits Quinn’s decision.


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - bored now - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 7:20 am:

    the costs of having a death penalty is the best non-emotional reason to get rid of it. if there was a significant, measurable deterrent, then the cost might be worth it, but there isn’t. the death penalty apparently only serves the emotional needs of people who are easily scared and feel powerless in a democracy…

  2. - Angry Chicagoan - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 7:59 am:

    Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and in our criminal justice system that’s symbolized by the death penalty. No amount of checks and balances can clean the system up, and when you’re talking about a) the government playing God and b) a sentence that can never be reversed or ameliorated in the event of a mistake, that’s an insurmountable problem.

  3. - Ghost - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 8:33 am:

    Its long overdue.

    now take the 122 million and lets build some prisons. Our prison system is overcrowded, lets also bring Thompson nline! Thompson is the perfect faiclity to house our more dangerous criminals.

  4. - MrJM - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 8:53 am:

    Despite all of the reforms, I’m still not convinced that that administration of the death penalty is the one area of human endeavor from which malfeasance and human error have been eliminated.

    – MrJM

  5. - wordslinger - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 9:02 am:

    I have as strong an emotional desire as anyone to see the Gacys and Specks of the world cook. But my reason tells me conclusively, that the state, especially in Illinois, cannot be trusted to administer the ultimate penalty with 100% certainty of justice.

    Let them rot under sentences of life with no parole. That way, if later evidence, DNA or otherwise, proves a wrongful conviction, it’s up to a governor to make the call to release them.

  6. - Commonsense in Illinois - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 10:19 am:

    So is the assumption here that doing away with the death penalty saves $122 million? With the exception of maintaining death row at Menard/Ponitac, any savings will quickly be eaten by extensively long life sentences. Eventually it will cost more, but what the heck…if we don’t use the death penalty, do away with it. But let’s not pretend its a cost saver, it isn’t.

  7. - Liberty First - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 10:27 am:

    At the same time this issue come up, the supreme court upholds the death sentence of a man convicted of killing and dismembering two people with a samari sword. What is the point of giving the killer free cable tv, porn, a library, exercise room and 3 square meals a day for the rest of his life? The laws have been changed to protect people who are innocent. DNA is more readily available, judges don’t have to convict on the testimony of a single witness, police must videotape interrogations . Give the new laws a chance to work.

  8. - Agree - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 10:29 am:

    How much will it cost local county prosecutors (taxpayers) who have to conduct a lengthy and expensive trial because they lose the ability to plea bargain… with the threat of the DP. So I agree with CII above, let’s not use this misleading stat as the reason to abolish the DP.

    So you offer Richard Speck 30 years or you take him to trial to get life.

  9. - wordslinger - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 10:42 am:

    –How much will it cost local county prosecutors (taxpayers) who have to conduct a lengthy and expensive trial because they lose the ability to plea bargain… with the threat of the DP.–

    That practice is immoral on its face. If you’re going to have a death penalty, it’s only justification is asmthe ultimate penalty for the most heinous crimes — not to make some state’s attorneys jobs easier.

  10. - Agree - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 11:01 am:


    If you believe that, then you believe the whole justice system is immoral. Was it immoral to have a serial killer plead guilty to several murders and receive life instead of the death penalty. Maybe the prosecutor could have proved it,,, maybe not as some of these cases were very old. But they had the threat of the Dp to provide justice for the family who lost a loved one.

    So wordslinger, I think the only absolute on display here is your naive understanding of the justice system.

  11. - VanillaMan - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 11:05 am:

    There is no reason to insult differing opinions here. The fact is we have proven beyond doubt that the State has killed people convicted of a crime they did not commit.

    A death penalty can not be administered with the certainty required to prevent more innocent killings.

    There are good and bad reasons for it to exist. It’s just plain insulting to keep arguing over those reasons. It is time to move on. Without it.

  12. - formerpolitico - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 11:06 am:

    Where does that number come from?? Costs of prosecuting for death or for life are roughly the same in terms of prosecutorial resources, and prison costs for lifers far exceed those for the condemned prisoners. To cut down court costs, just give ‘em one appeal. And what is the value of an innocent life saved when a criminal chooses not to kill his victim and the witness against him for fear of the death penalty? This happens, based on my criminal law experience. With no death penalty, the offender might as well just murder his witnesses; and lifers can kill a prison guard with little additional penalty. Cost is a bogus argument against the death penalty.

  13. - Matt Jones - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 11:13 am:

    I appreciate the concern of those who think we spend too much on criminal defense in Capital cases, but wonder how they’d feel if the “remedy” for the $122 million was to defund the Cap Lit Trust fund while MAINTAINING the death penalty. Much of the expense occurred in the few years of the Act, when, unfortunately, there was too little regulation of defense expenses. Review the Sutherland case as an example. That has now been changed thanks to the efforts of our former Treasurer Alexi G.
    I somehow believe that if the financial argument were addressed e.g. by eliminating the Cap Lit fund, there would (perhaps rightfully) be complaints about a system where the odds are financially stacked against indigent defendants.
    Finally, does anyone really think that the resources devoted to exoneration will (or maybe even should) evaporate? Does the Center for Wrongful Convictions simply close up shop? Except for the cost of mitigation expert expenses, the cost of criminal justice in a post-death penalty world will not be radically different, it will simply be shifted to local jurisdictions.

  14. - Agree - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 11:13 am:

    vanilla man..

    I agree. I can see both sides of this argument. But, to use morality on one side is to call the other argument immoral. I believe that arguments can be made without using emotional language. Those who get worked up in religious certainty on this issue are the ones who dismiss the same emotion displayed on abortion.

    I do believe the Governor should consider both sides on this issue.

  15. - wordslinger - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 11:19 am:

    Agree, after covering criminal trials including death penalty cases for 10 years I’m hardly naive as to how the justice system works.

    Let me ask you a question: if you have a death penalty, is it moral that than an admitted serial killer can avoid that punishment by making a deal with a prosecutor, while a defendant who exercises a right to trial could receive the ultimate punishment?

    Before you answer, keep in mind, the state had to cut loose 20 convicted murderers from Death Row because of later DNA evidence that proved they couldn’t have committed the crime or egregious prosecutorial misconduct.

  16. - The Foz - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 11:20 am:

    Don’t hand me any of that sentence of life in prison without parole as long as shysters game the system to spring killers and educators with visions of publications and profit conjure scenarios to excuse or erase convictions and appeal denials to free the guilty. As for deterrent, it forever deterred Ciucci, Carpenter, Speck, Gacy and others without an iota of doubt.

  17. - Matt Jones - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 11:21 am:

    Vanilla, can you provide the name of the innocent executed person in Illinois? and even IF you can give me a name,thats why the RYAN/CULLERTON/OBAMA/DILLARD reforms were imposed and even the PRO abolition Mr. Sullivan’s committee determined that the reforms had worked with the exception of regional bias.With all due respect to YOUR position, but I shouldn’t have to “move along” simply because my side lost in a lame duck veto session.

  18. - Agree - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 11:23 am:


    You raise some very complex issues. I will defer to my comment at 11:13 pm… Thanks.

  19. - Small Town Liberal - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 11:24 am:

    - So wordslinger, I think the only absolute on display here is your naive understanding of the justice system. -

    Laughable. The only absolute is your lack of ability to read what is written. Word clearly stated that the death penalty, specifically, can’t be justified as a bargaining chip.

  20. - Agree - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 11:33 am:

    S T Liberal

    And obviously many people disagree with your opinion. I don’t think this is done to “make some states attorney’s job easier”.

  21. - The Foz - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 11:33 am:

    I’m with Matt Jones. I’ve been around a long time and can’t recall and innocent person (since hanging was abolished) being executed in Illinois. Whatta we do if Terrible Tommy O’Conner surfaces.

  22. - Small Town Liberal - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 11:41 am:

    Agree - These are your own words: “How much will it cost local county prosecutors (taxpayers) who have to conduct a lengthy and expensive trial because they lose the ability to plea bargain… with the threat of the DP”

    You’re saying that we should keep the death penalty so that it can be used as a threat to make convictions easier. You and a number of other people may think that is ok, but me, wordslinger, and probably several others think that is a pretty poor justification of putting someone to death.

  23. - wordslinger - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 11:41 am:

    –Whatta we do if Terrible Tommy O’Conner surfaces.–

    LOL, I think Tommy might be in the clear. They finally dismantled his gallows in 1977, more than half a century after his breakout.

  24. - Agree - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 11:48 am:

    S T Liberal

    My original post was to point out my opinion on the premise of this article. That local counties and the state will be impacted financially, in a different way, if the DP is abolished. I am a moderate Democrat who voted for Obama and Quinn… I am having a hard time accepting the arguments that are being made to abolish the death penalty. But I do respect your opinion.

  25. - VanillaMan - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 11:55 am:

    A death penalty can not be administered with the certainty required to prevent more innocent killings.

    As to supposed reforms, I am cynical towards governments. So I am cynical that the proposed reforms would have created the certainty needed to administer the death penalty without killing more innocent people. If you believe differently then go right ahead. You first. Our record demonstrates failure. If you think we got it right this time then your faith is misplaced.

    Always err on the side of life.

  26. - MrJM - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 12:03 pm:

    Don’t hand me any of that sentence of life in prison without parole as long as shysters game the system to spring killers and educators with visions of publications and profit conjure scenarios to excuse or erase convictions and appeal denials to free the guilty.

    Are advocating the abolition of the appellate court system, Foz? If not, please enlighten us as to how that sentence could be construed to make any sense.

    – MrJM

  27. - MikeMacD - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 12:14 pm:

    “As for deterrent, it forever deterred Ciucci, Carpenter, Speck, Gacy and others without an iota of doubt.”

    I’m not familiar with Ciucci or Carpenter, but with respect to Speck and Gacy, I don’t think pointing to convicted murderers whose crimes were committed while the death penalty was in place advances the deterrent argument.

    If this is instead a cynical remark to say that no further murders were committed by these individuals because they were put to death, then Richard Speck shouldn’t be on this list as he died of natural causes while serving a sentence of 400 to 1,200 years. He was never accused of committing another murder while in prison for 25 years.

  28. - The Foz - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 1:10 pm:

    Sorry, my fault. Even after all appeals are exhaused the life without parole can be meaningless simply by a governor’s or Presidential fiat, manipulation of public opinion through manufactured “new” evidence or witnesses recanting under intimidation or reward.

  29. - mokenavince - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 1:11 pm:

    He won’t make up his mind until Madigan tells him what to do. Poor guy’s in over his head.

  30. - Matt Jones - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 1:17 pm:

    VanillaMan, I understand your cynacism, however, you asserted initially and implicitly did again that “innocents” have been put to death, without identifying an example in Illinois. And as for the reforms, well, what can I say, I’ve reviewed them all and read the reports of those who’ve studied them all, all to the same conclusion, they have worked (with the exception I previously mentioned). I’m not a head in the sand kinda guy, but I’ve listened for two long the arguments “we’ve killed innocent men” without ANYONE saying who. If you oppose the death penalty on moral grounds, I completely accept that, however, if you believe that the death penalty is wrong because we HAVE killed an innocent man in Illinois, I know of no support for such a belief. Thanks to all for the thoughtful (mostly) debate

  31. - Small Town Liberal - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 1:24 pm:

    - He won’t make up his mind until Madigan tells him what to do. -

    Madigan already gave his recommendation when the bill was passed. If Quinn was his puppet he would have signed it immediately.

  32. - wordslinger - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 2:32 pm:

    –Even after all appeals are exhaused the life without parole can be meaningless simply by a governor’s or Presidential fiat, manipulation of public opinion through manufactured “new” evidence or witnesses recanting under intimidation or reward.–

    Happens all the time.

    – Governors and presidents go out of their way to pardon convicted murderers. It’s why they spend their lives going for the big jobs, so they can pardon convicted murderers.

    – And boy, how many times have we seen that old manipulation of public opinion and manufacturing of false evidence It’s getting real old.

  33. - Heard it all before.... - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 10:33 pm:

    The problem, among others already discussed, with using the death penalty as a bargaining chip for plea negotiations is that the truly innocent (but wrongfully charged) are very likely going to reject the deal. Thus, of the 18+ exonerated in Illinois, you had cases where they adamantly rejected the plea deals (pre-trial, post-appeal and even before re-trials) and were convicted none the less.
    That we have seen other fairly recent cases where Illinois’s improved capital punishment “system” and our government screwed up (Kevin Fox (father in Will County charged with killing daughter, civil case settled last fall for wrongful prosecution); Jerry Hobbs, cleared in the summer of 2010 of the 2005 murders of his own daughter, 8, and a 9-year-old girl in Lake County, Ill.; and Police Officer Brian Dorian from Lynwood wrongly charged last fall in shooting spree and a murder along Indiana/IL border) that quickly come to mind off the top of my head and they alone should give grave pause to the idea that the system is fixed and that we can place great confidence in the infallibility of our human endeavors, however well intended.
    As George Will has commented in support of abolishing the death penalty and as a conservative that we should remember that capital punishment is a government program, so skepticism is warranted. Indeed.

  34. - Heard it all before.... - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 10:50 pm:

    BTW, as for the death penalty as a deterrent, look to the Gary Gauger case, wrongfully convicted and put on death row for the killing of his parents. The real killers, motorcycle gang members from Wisc (a non-death penalty state) came to IL (a state WITH the death penalty fully enforced at the time) to rob and kill Gauger’s parents. Just sayin.

    And think about the tragedy of that case–losing your parents and getting wrongfully convicted for their killing too. Doesn’t get much worse than that, but then again, see above, fathers wrongfully charged with killing their own children.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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