Illinois abolishes death penalty

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State becomes one of only 16 US states to end this cruel and unusual punishment.

The US state of Illinois has banned the death penalty, causing considerable ruckus, especially in Republican circles. The Governor who finally made the decision, Pat Quinn, is himself a Democrat but had long been in favour of capital punishment. However, over time he came to accept that the use of a death penalty inevitably means that at some point, an innocent person will be wrongly put to death and that the practice therefore cannot stand.

It is long overdue.

When an American friend visited here a few years ago, I found it difficult to explain with what utter, total, visceral horror the average European views the American use of the death penalty.

That this, the richest nation on earth, should share ground with countries like Nigeria, Iran and Syria and have a legal system that allows the state to murder its own citizens, is so totally abhorrent that one’s feelings about it are difficult to even put into words. 

The truth is that ALL legal systems are flawed, corruption, graft and political pressure occur everywhere, and where a death penalty exists, the worst of miscarriages of justice can occur.

In the UK, in the comparatively recent past, the state has murdered men because they were mentally children and could not defend themselves (Timothy Evans and Derek Bentley), and women because they were sexually active against the precepts of the day (Ruth Ellis).

It has also falsely imprisoned people for political reasons who later turned out to be innocent (the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four) but, thank God, our abolition of hte death penalty saved those people from being wrongly executed, even if the system spirited away dozens of years of their lives. 

I find it horrific, however, that Illinois is one of only 16 US states that has banned the death penalty, which means that it still lies on the statute books of the remaining 34. Plenty of room for improvement… 


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