Death penalty supporters ask lawmakers to think of victims' families

  • Alex McGimpsey of the DuPage County State's Attorney office speaks at a Springfield news conference opposing a plan to abolish the death penalty in Illinois. Roger Schnorr, right, observes. Schnorr's sister, Donna, was killed by Brian Dugan in 1984.

      Alex McGimpsey of the DuPage County State's Attorney office speaks at a Springfield news conference opposing a plan to abolish the death penalty in Illinois. Roger Schnorr, right, observes. Schnorr's sister, Donna, was killed by Brian Dugan in 1984. Mike Riopell | Staff Photographer

 
 

SPRINGFIELD -- With a vote over the death penalty in Illinois possibly looming in the coming days, supporters of capital punishment Tuesday sought to bring victims' families to the forefront of the debate.

"It's they who have born the brunt of these crimes," said Alex McGimpsey of the DuPage County State's Attorney Office.

Among them is Roger Schnorr, whose sister Donna was a 27-year-old nurse from Geneva when she was killed by Brian Dugan in 1984. Dugan was already serving time in prison for that crime when he was sentenced to death for the 1983 DuPage County murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico.

"He took their lives from them, and he still lives," Schnorr said at a Springfield news conference.

"Death is the right sentence for this killer," Schnorr said.

Lawmakers could consider abolishing the death penalty as early as this week. The term of the General Assembly ends next week, and lawmakers could consider lots of controversial legislation in its final days.

Critics of the push to abolish the death penalty argue the effort is being rushed.

But Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, said supporters of ending the death penalty have to act when they have the support.

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"I think when you have momentum, you need to seize that momentum," Raoul said.

And, Raoul said, many murder victims' families support ending the death penalty in an effort to eliminate mistakes.

No one has been executed in Illinois since former Gov. George Ryan cleared death row last decade at least in part because of a wrongful prosecution in Nicarico's death.

Since then, the debate over the death penalty has raged on. Supporters say the ultimate punishment can be a deterrent to murder and is appropriate for the most heinous crimes. And opponents point to mistakes made in the justice system that have led to innocent people being sentenced to death.

If the death penalty is abolished in Illinois, everyone who has been sentenced to death since Ryan cleared death row would get life in prison without parole instead.

A first vote likely come in the Illinois House. And it's unclear what Gov. Pat Quinn would do if legislation to abolish the death penalty reached his desk.