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updated: 4/16/2011 6:44 AM

DuPage prosecutor: Renew debate on death penalty

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  • DuPage prosecutor Robert Berlin said investigators discovered Dmitry  Smirnov read up on the law in Illinois and learned Gov. Pat Quinn abolished death penalty before he killed is ex-girlfriend in Oak Brook.

      DuPage prosecutor Robert Berlin said investigators discovered Dmitry Smirnov read up on the law in Illinois and learned Gov. Pat Quinn abolished death penalty before he killed is ex-girlfriend in Oak Brook.
    File photo

  • Dmitry Smirnov

      Dmitry Smirnov

 

If Illinois didn't already have a reason to reopen the death-penalty debate, it does now, DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin said Friday.

Berlin called on lawmakers to dig back into the divisive issue in light of a Canadian's arrest Thursday on charges he gunned down an ex-girlfriend in Oak Brook after learning the death penalty was recently abolished here.

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"This is not a study," Berlin said. "This is an actual case, and it proves the point that the death penalty does deter murders."

Berlin said authorities were still examining a laptop computer belonging to 20-year-old Dmitry Smirnov. The Surrey, British Columbia, man is accused of fatally shooting Jitka Vesel, 36, of Westmont, as she left a work function late Wednesday at her office at the Czechoslovak Society of America Fraternal Life.

Berlin said he was "frustrated" when investigators discovered Smirnov had read up on the law in Illinois and learned Gov. Pat Quinn abolished death penalty last month. Berlin called for a series of public hearings where those on both sides of the issue could argue their positions before the legislature.

"This is a debate that unfortunately we never had before the death penalty was abolished -- and it's something many of us were calling for," Berlin said.

Quinn's office Friday called the killing a "senseless tragedy" but said the governor has no intention of reopening the debate.

"Our system of handing down capital punishment was irreparably broken, and ending it was ultimately the right thing to do," Quinn spokeswoman Annie Thompson said. "The governor still firmly stands by his decision. With that said, of course our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victim at this time."

Berlin's call for renewed debate comes as two suburban Republican lawmakers -- Sen. Kirk Dillard and Rep. Dennis Reboletti -- were already pushing legislation to reinstate capital punishment in "worst-of-the-worst" cases, including murders of children, police, firefighters and witnesses of crimes.

But legal experts say making any headway would be an uphill battle as long as powerful lawmakers such as Quinn and other death penalty opponents hold all the cards.

"To reverse it, you're going to have to get past the governor and two houses, both controlled by the party that pushed for the abolition," said Ronald C. Smith, a professor at Chicago's John Marshall Law School and a former prosecutor who personally opposes capital punishment.

The Oak Brook slaying will "stir up the emotions of people who are pro death penalty," he said. "But it depends on who has the votes."

Reboletti, a former prosecutor certified to handle capital cases, said he has three bills currently pending before the House that could work toward reinstating the death penalty. One supports a public advisory referendum on the issue, while the others call for reinstating the penalty in certain circumstances.

"I think (the referendum) would be the most effective way to gauge the support," the Elmhurst lawmaker said. "I'm hopeful that in light of the Oak Brook case, (Quinn) might give that some reconsideration. It's a public safety issue."

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