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Quinn won’t say if he’ll sign bill banning executions

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Quinn Wednesday danced around whether he would sign a landmark repeal of the state’s death penalty, saying only that he intends to “follow my conscience” on the matter.

The Senate Tuesday approved and sent to Quinn the landmark legislation aimed at ending Illinois’ 33-year-old capital punishment system that has been fraught with mistakes.

During his campaign for governor, Quinn embraced the death penalty as long as it was administered properly but expressed support for continuing a moratorium on executions started by ex-Gov. George Ryan a decade ago.

Quinn sidestepped repeated questions about whether he would sign the legislation in a Wednesday news conference with reporters in his Statehouse office.

“I do think the opinion of the members of the General Assembly expressed in the House and Senate is one that is very serious indeed. These are men and women who went before the voters, got elected in their districts, and they voted their conscience. So I intend to follow my conscience, and part of that is careful review and study, something that I think I try to apply to every bill,” the governor said.

“This bill is one that has wide importance…given the history of our state with respect to this issue,” Quinn said.

Twenty people convicted and sentenced to death have been exonerated since 1977. At no time since Illinois re-imposed the death sentence has either legislative chamber passed repeal legislation. Should Quinn sign it, Illinois would be the third state since 2007 to abolish the death penalty.

Jeremy Schroeder, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty, said he did not interpret Quinn’s silence on his intentions as an ominous sign.

“We’re hopeful the governor will do the right thing,” Schroeder said. “We have a lot of people on our side who are contacting the governor and hoping he follows his conscience and signs this bill.”

On the other side of the debate, Mayor Daley advocated for keeping the death penalty in place. A Quinn veto or amendatory veto would kill it because the lame-duck Legislature that approved the measure was replaced by a newly sworn-in group Wednesday.

Daley is a former Cook County state’s attorney who has been an ardent and unabashed supporter of the death penalty. He once described himself as “pro-death.”

On the day after the Senate’s historic vote abolishing capital punishment, Daley held his ground but stopped short of urging Quinn to veto the bill.

“When you see men and women in the line-of-duty…getting killed and then you see a mass-murderer who kills four or five or six people, I believe in the death penalty. I do. I’ve always believed in it,” the mayor said.

Contributing: Fran Spielman

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