Quinn will abolish death penalty, lawmakers say

  • Sponsors of a bill to abolish the death penalty in Illinois say Gov. Pat Quinn will sign it Wednesday.

    Sponsors of a bill to abolish the death penalty in Illinois say Gov. Pat Quinn will sign it Wednesday. Associated Press file

Updated 3/9/2011 10:23 AM

SPRINGFIELD -- Following months of debate and speculation over his intentions, Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to abolish the death penalty in Illinois later today at a private event in his Capitol office, according to reports.

In doing so, Quinn essentially puts an end to a debate often fueled by cases in the suburbs. When former Gov. George Ryan cleared death row 11 years ago, he was pushed to do so at least partly by the wrongful conviction of suspects in the killing of Naperville's Jeanine Nicarico.


And the first person sentenced to death after Ryan's actions was Anthony Mertz, convicted of killing Rolling Meadows native Shannon McNamara.

Quinn is expected to take questions from reporters at noon after he signs the legislation.

Quinn took nearly two months to act on the legislation, saying he was gathering input from Illinoisans who wanted to weigh in.

Among them was McHenry County resident Gary Gauger, who was once sentenced to death for the 1993 murder of his parents.

Later, he was let go, after the crime was instead attributed to a motorcycle gang. Gauger said he sent a letter to Quinn asking him to abolish the death penalty. He argued that no amount of reforms could make the system perfect.

"They still can't guarantee you won't execute an innocent person," Gauger said.

But Quinn's move comes to the dismay of other suburban families who have been affected personally by violent crimes.

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Rolling Meadows' McNamara was killed in 2001 while she was a student at Eastern Illinois University.

Her mother, Cindy, sent Quinn a letter strongly urging him to veto the legislation, saying the ultimate punishment is needed for the most heinous crimes.

Anthony Mertz was convicted of the crime and sentenced to death.

"I am compelled now to appeal to you, not as governor, but as a parent," her mother wrote in a letter to Quinn. "Would you please try to imagine for a moment what it would be like to hear the news?"

Abolishing the death penalty today would eliminate it as a sentencing option in future cases. But it wouldn't directly affect people like Mertz who have already been sentenced.

Quinn, though, could shed light today on what he plans to do with those already on death row.

They include Brian Dugan, convicted of murdering Nicarico after the initial wrongful conviction of Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez for the same crime.

Despite Quinn's action, some suburban lawmakers plan to fight back.

Republican Rep. Dennis Reboletti of Elmhurst wants a statewide referendum on whether Illinois should have the death penalty. And Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican, would want to reinstate the death penalty with strict limits on what crimes it could be used for.