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Illinois scrubs death penalty

Governor makes 'most difficult' decision

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The governor of Illinois yesterday officially abolished the death penalty in the state, more than 10 years after executions there were halted amid fears innocent people could be condemned to die.

Democrat Pat Quinn described the decision as the "most difficult" he's made during his tenure, but insisted: "If the system can't be guaranteed 100 per cent error-free, then we shouldn't have the system. It cannot stand."

Illinois' road to abolition began in 2000, when Republican governor George Ryan suspended executions, and later emptied death row and commuted the sentences of its 167 inmates to life imprisonment.

The last execution in the state was in March 1999, when Andrew Kokoraleis was dispatched by lethal injection for the murder of a 21-year-old woman.

The state legislature approved the definitive end to capital punishment in January, but Quinn spent two months consulting with "prosecutors, crime victims' families, death penalty opponents and religious leaders" before making his final decision.

Public reaction to the announcement is mixed, AP reports. Pam Bosley, whose teenage son Terrell was shot dead outside a church in 2006, explained how the killing had changed her opinion on the death penalty. She said: "I am a Christian. I never believed in killing nobody else. But the pain you suffer every single day... I say take them out."

Charles Simmons, who lost three relatives in an arson attack, disagreed. He said his religious beliefs would not sanction the killer's execution, and that life in prison was a harsher punishment. He explained: "He knows he's not getting off easy. He's not going to leave us, you know. He's got to walk every day in jail, eat, face people in there."

The abolition comes into force on 1 July, and Governor Quinn has said he will commute any death sentence imposed before that date.

Illinois is now the 16th state which does not practice the death penalty, joining Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin on the list of abstainers. ®

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