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Last month, President Obama’s state of Illinois became the 16th to abolish capital punishment.
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn signed an abolition bill the state Legislature passed in February.
Along with signing this bill into law, Gov. Quinn issued the following statement:
“Since our experience has shown that there is no way to design a perfect death penalty system, free from the numerous flaws that can lead to wrongful convictions or discriminatory treatment, I’ve concluded that the proper course of action is to abolish it. I have concluded after looking at all of the information that I have received that it is impossible to create a perfect system, one that is free of all mistakes. I am deeply concerned by the possibility of an innocent person being executed.”
Those on death row will have their sentences commuted to life without the possibility of parole. The law also dedicates funds to law enforcement and services for victims’ families.
The heated debate over the bill had focused on more than a dozen death-row prisoners who were found to have been wrongfully convicted – including one man who came within 50 hours of execution. Lawmakers also debated the costs of imposing the death penalty.
The state’s death-penalty machinery had been halted since 2000, when the governor at that time, George Ryan, called the system “broken” and declared a moratorium on executions. Before leaving office in 2003, Mr. Ryan, a Republican, commuted the sentences of 167 death-row prisoners to life and pardoned four inmates.
Fifteen prisoners have been placed on the state’s death row since then.
Dozens of family members of victims had signed a letter to the Legislature in support of this bill, arguing that capital trials and appeals “drag victims’ loved ones through an agonizing and lengthy process, which often does not result in the intended punishment.”
The current and future mayors of Chicago took different sides, Mayor Richard M. Daley supporting capital punishment and Rahm Emanuel, who will become mayor this spring, saying the ban was the right thing to do.
Former Obama White House leader Emanuel was surely more definite on this matter of life and death than President Obama’s new press secretary, Jay Carney.
At Mr. Carney’s daily White House press briefing on March 30, I asked him:
“The Democrat governor of the president’s home state of Illinois, Pat Quinn, signed a bill abolishing the death penalty because, he said, ‘I am deeply concerned that an innocent may be executed.’ Does the president still disagree with this?”
CARNEY: “Again, I haven’t heard him discuss this. I would – his position is what it is.”
So, I cited Page 57 of “The Audacity of Hope.”
CARNEY: “I have no announcement to make about a change in any position of the president’s on this issue.”
Q: “All right, he has not changed. What is the president’s opinion of the mayor-elect of Chicago’s agreement with Gov. Quinn and with previous Gov. George Ryan, who commuted 167 death sentences in Illinois?”
CARNEY: “I don’t have an answer for you on that.”
Q: “You’d just rather –”
CARNEY: “I haven’t discussed the president’s opinion of the mayor-elect’s opinion of a former governor’s position –”
Please note that in press secretary Carney’s evasive responses, he never explained whether President Obama has changed his mind from supporting capital punishment – which governors of Obama’s Illinois have opposed and which the present Illinois governor and the Legislature abolished.
Why on earth did the White House press secretary feel it necessary to evade on this issue of life and death?