DuPage judge: Quinn 'grossly irresponsible' for stalling on death penalty

A DuPage County judge said it's “grossly irresponsible” for Gov. Pat Quinn to remain silent on whether he'll sign legislation that would abolish the state's death penalty.

Circuit Judge John Kinsella made a plea from the bench Monday for Quinn to end the uncertainty over Illinois' death penalty.

“He's got to tell us if he's going to sign the bill and make it law,” Kinsella said.

The judge's remarks came as he scheduled a May trial for an Addison man accused of killing his mother and a prostitute five years ago. Gary Schuning, 28, may face the death penalty if he is convicted of the Feb. 26, 2006, double-stabbing.

Schuning's attorney said he would be better prepared for trial if it were known that the bill recently passed by the Illinois General Assembly would abolish the death penalty as of July 1. The bill awaits Quinn's signature.

Kinsella said jury selection will be more complicated and the trial will take twice as long if it remains a death penalty case. Still, he said, it has been prepared for years as a death penalty case and will proceed that way.

Nevertheless, Kinsella said it would help prosecutors and defense attorneys throughout Illinois to know Quinn's decision about capital punishment.

“He needs to state his position one way or another,” said Kinsella, adding several times that he considered the governor's silence to be “irresponsible.”

Quinn spokeswoman Annie Thompson disagreed. The governor is in the process of reaching out to individuals on both sides of the issue “to try to gather as much information as possible” to make an informed decision.

“Given the importance and significance of this legislation and what this law would mean for Illinois, we think it would be irresponsible not to be reviewing it before acting on it,” Thompson said.

Quinn has until mid-March to sign or veto the legislation. If he doesn't act by that date, the legislation becomes law. While Quinn hasn't said when he will make a decision, Thompson said it will happen sometime before the deadline.

In the meantime, there have been no changes to the retrial of an Aurora man accused of murdering his 16-year-old stepdaughter.

Prosecutors again plan to seek the death penalty for Laurence Lovejoy, 45, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 2007. The Illinois Supreme Court later overturned the verdict and ordered another trial. Lovejoy's new trial is scheduled to begin today.

“We have to proceed as if we still have a death penalty because the governor could veto this bill,” said DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin, who is prosecuting the Lovejoy case. “If that's the case, then the law is still on the books.”

If Quinn signs the legislation while the Lovejoy trial is ongoing, Berlin said prosecutors would have to decide if they are still going to seek the death penalty.

Still, Berlin said it's understandable that the governor wants to take time before making a decision.

“I think the fact that he has not signed it yet clearly indicates that he's giving it serious consideration,” Berlin said. “It's still our hope that the governor is going to realize that there are certain cases where the death penalty is appropriate.”

Defendants in limbo as death penalty deadline looms

John J. Kinsella