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Question of the day

Friday, Oct 23, 2009

* Eric Zorn writes today about the death penalty

James Degorski and his accomplice Juan Luna killed seven innocent people in the 1993 Brown’s Chicken massacre.

Both men got lucky after they were convicted. They got life-without-parole sentences — Luna two years ago and Degorski earlier this week — when holdout Cook County jurors refused to vote for the death penalty.

Rodney Adkins, in contrast, killed one innocent person — Catherine McAvinchey, of Oak Park, whom he stabbed to death when she interrupted him as he was burglarizing her condominium in July 2003.

But Adkins did not get lucky after he was convicted. He got a death sentence from a Cook County judge in August, 2007. All eight crimes are unconscionable, of course. But so is the disparity in the sentences.

And concludes…

If it’s not for the worst of the worst but merely for the unluckiest of the worst, then the death penalty must go.

* The Question: Should the death penalty be abolished in Illinois? Explain.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Mr. Ethics - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 12:15 pm:

    Yes - Death is reserved for the hands of the Almighty

  2. - Homey - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 12:18 pm:

    Absolutely. How do you undo it when you discover a mistake? And, yes, only God has the right to take a life.

  3. - just sayin' - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 12:19 pm:

    Follow the Texas model. I don’t even think they use the electric chair. I think they have electric bleachers. lol

  4. - beth - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 12:24 pm:

    Not to go into the cases of wrongful convictions that sit on death row, or the fact that it is not a deterrent for other criminals, most importantly our state is BROKE and the death penalty process, from appeals to execution is ridiculously expensive. I can think of many better things to spend state money on (our children, for starters, especially in at-risk communities. That might actually be a preventative measure).

  5. - dave - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 12:24 pm:

    Absolutely. It is an evil, barbaric practice in itself, but in practice it is also executed in a manner that is racist, classist, and incredibly flawed.

    It should be abolished not just in IL, but across the country.

  6. - dave - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 12:24 pm:

    Oh yea… and it costs a lot of money. Money that the State doesn’t have, and can’t afford to spend.

  7. - formerGOPer - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 12:25 pm:

    I still support the death penalty but think that after a person is sentenced to death the sentence should be suspended and only imposed if the person then kills while in prison or escapes and is recaptured. My biggest problem with life without parole is there are too many bleeding hearts who see an elderly, sick or “reformed” inmate who would work for their release in spite of the “without parole” part of the sentence (a recent example those who supported the release of the Manson follower in California).

  8. - Greg B. - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 12:27 pm:

    It’s not cut and dry for me but yes. I think the most dangerous place to be is between and elected official and the needle. And let’s face it, it is a government program.

    That said, individuals who threaten the existence of the state or where you can’t incarcerate because of the threat one poses, or you don’t have the ability, then the death must be considered an option — sorry Mr. bin Laden.

    In general I think that one has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. A sever crime against others may make it necessary to deprive of 2 and 3 to protect others’ rights. But no. 1 isn’t govt’s place to say. We can protect 1,2 and 3 w/out the death penalty in all but the most extreme cases.

  9. - Obamarama - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 12:32 pm:

    Yes. The government should not kill people. Killing someone for killing someone else is an illogical punishment.

    From a strictly policy-oriented standpoint, it is too expensive and has no room for error.

  10. - Ed - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 12:33 pm:

    I believe in the death penalty, because the people that were killed were the victims of a sick person with no control over their emotions and should be eliminated.

  11. - topgun - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 12:35 pm:

    Yes, its nice to see that he finanly agrees with George Ryan. He deserves the credit for this article!!

  12. - LouisXIV - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 12:37 pm:

    Yes. All of the other western countries have abolished the death penalty. Why do we want to emulate countries like Iran, China, Saudi Arabia and Russia? As others have pointed out, it is expensive and recent history has shown that this state has made several mistakes in imposing the death penalty. Also there is no evidence imposing it has any deterrent effect.

  13. - OdysseusVL - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 12:44 pm:

    “sick person with no control over their emotions”

    Actually, if that was the case then the proper verdict should be not guilty on an insanity defense.

  14. - The Doc - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 12:51 pm:

    Yes, it should be abolished. It is generally costlier than lifetime incarceration, and has not been proven to serve as a deterrent.

  15. - Carl Nyberg - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 12:54 pm:

    Abolished? Hell, NO!

    The death penalty should be expanded.

    If a bureaucrat at an insurance company engages in a pattern of bad faith rulings that result in the deaths of people who paid for health care, the bureaucrat should be put to death.

    If you engage in fraud to get the country to go to war, you should be put to death.

    The people who created the policies that caused the financial sector and the wider economy to tank should be eligible for the death penalty if it can be shown that their conduct violated the law.

    And people who create Ponzi schemes that defraud charitable enterprises, I’m pretty OK with executing them too.

    The problem with the death penalty is that it seems to be primarily a tool for prosecutors to show how “tough” they are convicting Blacks, Latinos and poor “Whites”.

    I want to vote for a prosecutor that sent some Wall Street fraudsters to the death chamber.

  16. - Obamarama - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 12:56 pm:

    ===a sick person with no control over their emotions and should be eliminated.===

    Yes, someone should certainly be “eliminated” if they are “sick.” You might want to take a look back through history and see what other people have also held that view. Great company.

  17. - Objective Dem - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 1:01 pm:

    I think we should get rid of the death penalty.

    I don’t think it is a deterrent to crime. Most murders take place in the heat of passion when people are not thinking about consequences. Sociopaths are not thinking about consequences. For the other pre-meditated murders, I don’t see the killer really thinking there is much difference between death penalty and life in prison.

    There is always a chance of killing an innocent person. Unfortunately, the odds are increased because politicians, prosecutors, and others don’t want to admit mistakes. Cruz is one example, although fortunately he was not executed. There is now a case in Texas, where Gov. Perry worked hard to make sure evidence of innocence was not presented for a man that was then executed. I’m sure there are numerous other cases.

    So in order to prevent mistakes and provide all the due process necessary, we must have an extended legal appeals process. This costs the government a fortune.

    Then there is the issue of fairness. If you have money, say OJ or Von Bulow, you have a chance at getting off. If you are poor and have limited representation, your odds of the death penalty go up.

    I use to think that we should allow the execution of people who want the death penalty. Then I heard of a case downstate Illinois where the killer tortured a person to death in order to get the death penalty. The killer was suicidal but considered suicide wrong so he sought the death penalty. Why should we give someone like this what they want?

    I also don’t think that killers are lucky to get life in prison rather than the death penalty. Maximum security prisons are nasty brutal places. Plus the killer has to live with the guilt of their crimes.

  18. - Anon - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 1:02 pm:

    Generally, I am opposed to the death penaltyl It seems barbaric, and the possibility that someone innocent could be executed is unacceptable. But, there are names you could bring up that would move me off my opposition quickly and easily–Gacy, for instance. To me it seems that there are people who are so evil that their continued existence insults and indicts society. I’m torn.

  19. - Interested Observer - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 1:09 pm:

    No, it should not. If the victims have any voice in this it should be an “eye for an eye.” Instead the convicted get free room and board and three squares a day. The only other solution that might work for me, would be solitary confinement for the rest of their life without any possiblity for parole or to never see the light of day again. I’m all for let the punishment fit the crime.

  20. - ChiTownguy - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 1:13 pm:

    Death penalty should be abolished.

    That kind of final judgement should not be in the hands of man.

  21. - bwana - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 1:24 pm:

    No death penalty! But for the sick killers that have no respect for life, if caught and proved guilty, and young enough, immediate enrollment to the University of Pakistan or Afghanistan

  22. - Third Generation Chicago Native - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 1:29 pm:

    Yes, Too many appeals etc cost the taxpayers.

    Maybe it will be easier to get someone to plead guilty knowing they will only rot in jail for a lifetime, verses death. There have also been too many cases where an innocent person could have been put to death.

  23. - A Citizen - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 1:31 pm:

    Abolish it - if mistaken, it can’t be reversed. And the number of “mistakes” is both disturbing and compelling.

  24. - Objective Dem - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 1:36 pm:

    Interested Observer,

    If you were murdered, you may want to have the killer executed. But I would not.

    Maybe we need to have something like organ donor’s sticker on the driver’s license. If you are kidnapped or robbed, the potential killer can check out the driver’s license. If they see that you have a sticker that you want the killer executed, they might just spare your life and go after someone like me with a “no execution” sticker. I’m willing to take the risk.

    Seriously, it is important to remember that many people, myself included, have serious religious reasons for opposing the death penalty and would not want someone executed to avenge my death.

    Also there is an underlying assumption that the killer is a depraved evil person killing people randomly. My sense is most of the time the killer is a family member or friend.

  25. - walter sobchak - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 1:42 pm:

    Let me represent the 65% of the American population that are in favor of the death penalty. No criminal penalty is uniformly applied because we rely on human beings to administer justice. But, in general, some crimes and criminals deserve the ultimate penalty. That some escape such a sentence through stealth anti death penalty jurors is a miscarriage of justice, that others take advantage of the system through appeals that hold little logic or law at their base is expensive and time consuming, that statistics can be manipulated to prove the unprovable about deterrence is a healthy part of a debate that should always go on in America, but, society demands justice, and to some criminals death should be the penalty for their acts.

  26. - Cook County Commoner - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 1:45 pm:

    Abolish it. It is a hold over from a more barbaric time when perhaps quick and fatal punishment served as a deterrent in a lawless frontier. No such need exists any longer. Also, the faults in our legal system should render consideration of the death penalty as an absurdity. I would carve out a narrow exception. For a murder seen by at least five reliable eye witnesses, I would allow a close, adult family member of the victim to execute the murderer by bludgeoning in front of all family members of the victim out to third cousins, including children. They all must be present, and the state will pay for transportation. Maybe that would bring an end to the disturbing blood lust I often perceive in capital cases.

  27. - Rich Miller - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 1:48 pm:

    I used to believe that the death penalty should be kept in place and reserved only for the most heinous crimes.

    The abduction, rape and murder of a little girl would’ve most certainly qualified in my mind.

    But, as we all know now, a man was falsely accused and convicted multiple times for that very crime in DuPage County.

    So, now, I say abolish it.

  28. - casual observer - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 1:59 pm:

    I would keep the death penalty for the most heinous of crimes where there is absolutely no doubt about guilt. I think of the Virginia snipers plinking innocent victims in parking lots for their thrill of the hunt.
    On the Brown’s Chicken trial - if that was a death penalty case, weren’t the jurors asked if they had any reservations about imposing death? Wouldn’t they have been disqualified?

  29. - Ben - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 2:07 pm:

    We don’t need the death penalty. It fails to deter crime, wastes money, puts innocent lives at risk of being executed, and is incredibly discriminatory. Talk about a failed government program - let’s get rid of it!

  30. - Fan of the Game - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 2:13 pm:

    I have never seen prison or the death penaty as deterrents. They are simply the cost for committing crimes against society.

    Keep the death penalty for those murders in which guilt is established beyond any doubt. Then streamline the appeal process so it becomes less expensive and takes half the time.

    Interestingly, the Brown Chicken killers would not fall into this category. Very little physical evidence suggests they committed the crimes. Life in prison seems the appropriate sentence for this conviction.

  31. - vicki - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 2:13 pm:

    in your words, the two inmates got “lucky” when they got the death penalty. I would suggest otherwise. Life in prison is no cake walk and personally the death penalty allows an early escape. It is time to do away with the death penalty as an option and only allow life in prison with parole and life in prison without parole for juries.

  32. - Kang - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 2:14 pm:

    Abolish the death penalty or create system where the governor must sign a death penalty order that must also be signed by the President prior to any execution. Limit 1 per state per year. If it’s to be reserved for the worst of the worst and only for those that are 100% guilty (although having met Gary Gauger and other wrongfully convicted death row members at Northwestern, not sure what 100% guilty really means), then I want the 2 highest elected executives held accountable for the execution. Anybody pro-death penalty should read Turow’s very short book “Ultimate Punishment” and then see if it changes your mind. Very logical arguments that touch on every justification and issue.

  33. - Rich Miller - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 2:15 pm:

    ===in your words===

    Zorn’s words.

  34. - ChicagoRick - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 2:22 pm:

    I’m with Rich. I used to believe the death penalty should be available in rare instances. But thanks to Birkett and his crew, I no longer think we should take the risk of being murderers ourselves as a society. Abolish it and spend them money more wisely elsewhere.

  35. - dupage dan - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 2:31 pm:

    I fear that if a member of my family were to be murdered I would resort to bad behavior to end the murderer’s miserable life. Having said that, I am against the death penalty. It can’t be said to be a deterrent when states with high execution rates also have high murder rates. The chance of executing an innocent person is too great to ignore. The cost of housing a prisoner on death row along with the high costs of the appeals process makes the death penalty more expensive than life without parole.

    If the state can promise that life without parole means just that then support for the death penalty drops. As long as citizens have faith that the monster(s) won’t get out of prison NO MATTER WHAT then the death penalty can be set aside. As it should be.

    Mr Nyberg, must every discussion subject be turned to the “unjust war” by you? I bet we could discuss pet bunny rabbits and you would turn it into a diatribe about Bush, et al.


  36. - SusanS - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 2:47 pm:

    It’s not an effective way to prevent or reduce crime, costs a whole lot more than life in prison, and worst of all, risks executions of innocent people.

    The system can make tragic and irreversible mistakes. In 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas for starting the fire that killed his children. We now know that the forensics used to convict him were junk science. and that the fire was accidental. Willingham was innocent. There wasn’t even a crime.

    Over 130, other wrongfully convicted people sentenced to death have been exonerated. The list includes 290 from Illinois, second only to Florida. DNA, rarely available in homicide cases, can’t guarantee we won’t execute innocent people. Obviously, if someone is convicted and later found innocent you can release him from prison, but not from the grave.

  37. - Jake from Elwood - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 2:49 pm:

    I don’t like my government in the killing business. So ban it.

  38. - Honest Abe - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 2:53 pm:

    The death penalty should not be abolished. It needs to be available for heinous murderers such as Gacy and other such criminals.

  39. - ABCBoy - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 3:16 pm:

    Yes, for the following reasons:

    1) Although I 100% support the criminal justice system, sometimes people make mistakes. Death is irreversible, and our governments shouldn’t be in the business of killing people unless there is a clear & present danger of innocents being killed.

    2) I believe in redemption. That isn’t to say that a killer should be let free. Many, probably most, deserve to spend the rest of their life in prison as we throw away the key. They still have to pay for what they did. But redemption is possible within the walls of a prison, and individuals ought to at least be allowed to strive for that until their natural death.

  40. - Quiet Sage - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 3:18 pm:

    I visited the LBJ museum in Austin, Texas a few years ago. There was a display showing that by the late 1960’s, the death penalty had all but disappeared in the United States. I believe that in 1969 there was only one execution in the entire country. The spate of executions beginning with Gary Gilmore’s in Utah in 1977 has been a regression to a more barbaric past.

  41. - krome - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 3:31 pm:

    We should streamline the process and correct it (such as prosecution by special prosecutors instead of local SA), up the standard of guilt (beyond any doubt), and expand it to more crimes

  42. - Thomas Westgard - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 3:33 pm:

    Abolish. It doesn’t accomplish any of the goals it’s supposedly in place to promote.

  43. - Conservative Veteran - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 3:34 pm:

    No, the death penalty shouldn’t be abolished. If someone takes the life, the killer should lose his or her right to life. Maybe the death penalty doesn’t deter crime because it’s not used enough. Each year, about 18,000 Americans are convicted of murder. If all of them were executed, that would be about 50 executions, per day. If newspapers printed the names of everyone who was executed, the previous day, some criminals would read the list and decide against killing.

  44. - You Go Boy - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 4:14 pm:

    I would agree with Interested Observer above. There are worse things than death - solitary confinement and the only recreation would be an unending loop of home movies of the person(s) brutalized. Death penalty would only be employed at the behest of the murderer.

  45. - Amalia - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 4:26 pm:

    No, it should not be abolished. The biggest goal it accomplishes is to permanently remove an evil murdering person from our society. and, no, prison does not permanently remove a person from our society, it just restricts their liberty. Permanent removal ensures that someone evil cannot decide that a life sentence means, hey, I can kill another prisoner or a prison guard….AND NOTHING MORE WILL HAPPEN TO ME.

    For Zorn to use the term capricious about the justice system is completely silly. If you are concerned about capriciousness of a system, are you concerned about other cases, and other victims
    Mr. Zorn?

    and while you are at it, Mr. Zorn, please spend some time worrying about victims. because there are lots of unsolved
    cases of murder out there. the real capriciousness is that
    of evil criminals. and there are evil ones who do not
    deserve to be among any of us.

  46. - VanillaMan - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 4:45 pm:

    We should not empower our government to decide when people should live or die. Whether it is before birth, or due to a criminal conviction, we must always err on the side of life.

    There is no suitable punishment for kidnapping, raping and killing children - even the death penalty doesn’t punish enough. Make the convicted live forever in confinement. This gives the innocent a chance to prove their innocence, and the guilty a chance to realize the horrors they perpetrated on their victims.

  47. - Dem observer - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 5:06 pm:

    No. But Zorn is right. Why is it that some of the very worst killers get a reprieve and lesser ones don’t? Its amazing to me that the Brown’s Chicken killers will be taken care of by taxpayers for decades to come given the cold-blooded nature of their mass killings.

  48. - April - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 11:53 pm:

    Is there ever any real justice? Killing these murderers won’t bring back the dead. But it is appalling that Juan Luna and James Degorski received a natural life sentence, the same sentence given to Paul Modrowski, who supposedly lent his car to a murderer. He also got LWOP under the accountability law. Like I said: there is no real justice.

  49. - wordslinger - Saturday, Oct 24, 09 @ 12:05 am:


    With DNA evidence, we can set people free, but we can also convict them with certainty.

    I have no problem putting down the Brian Dugans and other mad dogs of our world.

    I was at the Northern Star in DeKalb when the call came in on the missing Melissa Ackerman in Somanauk. I covered that story and every ugly and sordid turn in the road.

    God bless the family and may she rest in peace. Rest assured that the authorities in that case will answer to a higher power.

    Some of you from Macoupin and Sangamon counties might remember my first murder trial back in the 80s. Daniel Hines and Bobby Turner simultaneously raped, then murdered, Bridget Drobney from Downers Grove after they used a phony cop light to pull her over when she driving back to her hotel from a wedding in Gillespie.

    Bobby Turner later became a Death Row snitch, then was put back in general population when Ryan emptied Death Row. As a good Lutheran, I hope he lives every moment in absolute terror.

    When it comes to Dugan, Turner and Hines, I’d give them the juice myself. And I’d sleep like a baby that very night.

  50. - wordslinger - Saturday, Oct 24, 09 @ 12:09 am:

    About the above, I’m not proud of that position, but I’m not ashamed, either.

    Here’s a time when you hope someone goes to Hell, you mean it.

  51. - prison worker - Saturday, Oct 24, 09 @ 12:26 pm:

    I work at the only Illinois prison with a death row. I see how the death row offenders have privileges that lifers do not. The amount of time and money that is devoted by the state to the appeal system is tremendous. I feel that lifers suffer much more in the three maximum institutions of Illinois than do the death row offenders. In Illinois there is no chance of parole with a life sentence as there is in other states. With the present moritorum, death row means a pleasant life for the offender. Abolish the death penalty!

  52. - The Prophet - Saturday, Oct 24, 09 @ 5:25 pm:

    How about “a compromise” for all of the liberals and conservatives out there? We will abolish the death penalty and in it’s place sentence these “convicted killers” to banishment from the Unites Staes of America for the remainder of their lives. If they are ever found to be on United States soil, they are to be put to death immediately. We will ship these convicted killers by boat to some remote Pacific island which will be patrolled by the US Navy. The cost of maintaining this penal colony for the killers will be born by the liberals who feel that they don’t mind spending a little extra out of their pockets so that they won’t have these killer’s “accountability for their own actions” staining their lily white consciences. Hey, for the liberal thinkers out there it is “only money” (but “their” money for a change and not the rest of us taxpayer’s being made to foot their bill). It is a little like that book from the last century called “A Man Without A Country”.

    By the way, I just saw a movie this weekend starring Jaimee Fox called “Law Abiding Citizen”. This question that is posed reminded me of this recently released movie (and also of the poor family members of the seven innocent victims killed at the Brown’s Chicken massacre).

  53. - Greg - Sunday, Oct 25, 09 @ 8:50 am:

    - The Doc - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 12:51 pm:

    “Yes, it should be abolished. It is generally costlier than lifetime incarceration, and has not been proven to serve as a deterrent”. Hey DOC, it was never meant to be a deterrent! It’s called the death PENALTY. Oh yes it keeps the executed from doing it again!!!

  54. - State Rep. Karen Yarbrough - Sunday, Oct 25, 09 @ 12:39 pm:

    As the Illinoi state legislator carrying HB262, which abolishes the death penalty in Illinois; I find many of the comments listed above in fact the reasons for and against abolition that people hold across the United States for some time. What I am most glad of is that it appears that more people (at least in this blog) support abolition than not.
    I have not always held the position that I do today being in opposition to the death penalty but have evolved to this position over years of information gathering, soul searching and study. Today, I agree that it’s the humane and correct position to have.

    Thanks, Rich for posting this question.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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