History

On March 9, 2011 Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation abolishing the death penalty in Illinois. The Illinois abolition was preceded by research and advocacy over a period of many years.

1974

Following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Gregg v. Georgia, Illinois's state legislature votes to reinstate capital punishment.

2000-2010

Effective in 2000, the Illinois legislature creates the Capital Litigation Trust Fund, with an initial grant of several million dollars, spurred in part by the highly dramatic exonerations of innocent persons on death row who had exhausted all appeals and came close to being executed.

The Fund was created to allow private, appointed defense counsel, state's attorneys and public defenders to be paid directly for the expenses of a capital trial from state appropriated funds, rather than have the expenses of a capital trial in the counties be born primarily by the counties. The state's attorney unilaterally filing a Notice of Intent to seek the death penalty triggered access to the Fund for both the prosecution and the defense. A series of tables from the Comptroller of Illinois shows in detail how funds were dispersed during the life of the Fund.

More than $100 million of state money was spent out of the Capital Litigation Trust Fund by county state's attorneys, appointed private counsel, by the Attorney General and by public defenders. The patterns of expenditures and the number of capital prosecutions in the individual counties, as well as the number of death sentences imposed, do not show a simple or expected relationship to the number of first-degree murders in the 102 counties. The fund and this history are analyzed in detail in the 2010 Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology article, "Capital Punishment in Illinois in the Aftermath of the Ryan Commutations: Reforms, Economic Realities, and a New Saliency for Issues of Cost."

2000

Governor George Ryan unilaterally imposes a statewide moratorium on executions in Illinois, in response to accumulating evidence of more than a dozen wrongfully convicted persons on death row in Illinois. Illinois was the first state to impose a statewide moratorium. Other states soon followed. The background to these wrongful convictions in Illinois included: faulty eyewitness identification; inadequate and ineffective representation of defendants at the trial level; confessions coerced by torture and other illegal means; prosecutorial misconduct in withholding evidence of innocence or the suppression of evidence identifying a different principal suspect; the admission of incriminating, uncorroborated evidence of guilt from those with an incentive to testify falsely, and other common improprieties.

Illinois at the time, like many state capital jurisdictions, had an expansive definition of death eligibility with 21 statutory aggravating factors, allowing for a large proportion of first-degree murders to be potentially designated for capital prosecution in the 102 counties. The discretion to seek the death penalty in a factually death eligible case rested exclusively with the State's Attorneys in each of Illinois' 102 counties. The indictments include information on other crimes committed, and include other indications of aggravation, such as that the murder was committed with a gun.

2002

The Governor's Commission on Capital Punishment recommends a series of legislative and rule changes. The 2002 Report of the Governor's Commission is included here. Only a few of the reforms suggested by the 2002 Governors' Commission were adopted by the legislature.

2003

In January Governor Ryan commutes the sentences of 157 persons on death row, pardons others outright, and empties Illinois' death row in an act of clemency which was without precedent in Illinois and in the entire United States. Click here to read the text of Governor Ryan's 2003 Commutation address

2003-2009

Illinois Committee to Study the Reform of the Death Penalty. This website's set of more than 2200 murder indictments from all counties in Illinois from 2000-2010 was collected as part of the Project Director's work on the Committee, from 2003-2009. The Final Report includes the scope of the Committee, its final reports, and the testimony presented to it.

2011

On March 9 Governor Pat Quinn signs legislation abolishing the death penalty in Illinois. The Illinois abolition was preceded by research and advocacy over a period of many years, and followed a series of high profile exonerations of persons on death row in Illinois. The background to the Illinois abolition is described in Rob Warden, "How and Why Illinois Abolished the Death Penalty." The Center on Wrongful Convictions, founded in 1998 at Northwestern University School of Law, played a critical role in these exonerations, as did the development of DNA technology.