About This Project

Historical Background

The purpose of this project was to make publicly available for criminal law and criminology researchers, and any other interested persons, a series of legal records which were obtained during the course of research on capital punishment and its cost during the period 2000-2009. This research, along with many other factors, played a role in the abolition of the capital punishment in Illinois in March of 2010.

The set of original indictments from the county clerk's offices of the 102 counties in Illinois were collected in response to requests to the individual county clerks while the Project Director was a member of the Illinois Capital Punishment Reform Study Committee. The data from Illinois Comptroller's Office were collected at the same time. These data are analyzed and reported upon in Bienen, The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 100, No. 4, Fall 2010.

The background memoranda were prepared for those coming to the data without any prior experience or knowledge of preexisting research on homicide in Chicago, or the study of homicide data generally.

The set of murder indictments is useful for a variety of different kinds of research: research into patterns of homicide over a period of time in particular state, Illinois, or in individual localities within the state; the study of prosecutorial decision making and discretion in what was at the time a death penalty jurisdiction; information about individual counties, cases and indictments which can then be linked to other information about that murder, either from the Department of Corrections web site; or from newspaper accounts, or other sources. So that, for example, if a case was charged as murder, even as a possibly death eligible murder, the eventual sentence the defendant received, if found guilty, and for what crime, can be found on the Department of Corrections web site and compared with the initial charges in the indictment. The charges in the indictment reflect what the Grand Jury voted upon in the case. The sentence imposed is the result of the decision of the judge after trial before a judge or a jury, or after a plea of guilty.

Dr. Bienen's previous websites - permanently archived with Northwestern University Library - include Homicide in Chicago 1870-1930 and The Life and Times of Florence Kelley in Chicago, 1891-1899. She collaborated with Mark Swindle for the design/information architecture of each.


This Project was solely supported by faculty research grants to the Project Director, as a faculty member, from the Northwestern University School of Law during the years when the research was conducted. These funds paid for assistance from student research assistants; copying, and other miscellaneous expenses of data collection and research. Editorial assistance and further support was provided by the students serving as editors and staff of The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, during the period 2009-2010.


Leigh Bienen, Senior Lecturer, Northwestern University School of Law, wishes to thank and give credit to the Northwestern University Faculty Research Funds; Northwestern University School of Law Dean Daniel G. Rodriguez; Associate and Acting Dean Kimberly Yuracko; former Dean David E. Van Zandt; the editors and staff of The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology at Northwestern University School of Law ; and especially Jonathan Sabo, Amit Patel, Rebecca Bact, and many many other students and staff of the Journal; Mark Swindle, Project Manager and Designer; Collin Sasser, Associate Director of Web Development, Northwestern University School of Law; Thomas Geraghty, Director Bluhm Legal Clinic, Northwestern University School of Law; Robert L. Warden, Director and Jennifer Linzer, Center on Wrongful Convictions, Bluhm Legal Clinic, Northwestern University School of Law; Thomas P. Sullivan and Richard D. Schwind, Co-Chairs of the Illinois Capital Punishment Reform Study Committee and other staff and members of the Committee; Sarah M. Pritchard, Dean of Libraries Northwestern University and staff at Academic Technologies; Lois A. Remeikis, Associate Dean Information Services, Northwestern University School of Law; Marcia G. Lehr, Librarian; Pegeen G. Bassett, Librarian; Molly Heiler, Research Assistant; Maryanne Martinez, Faculty Assistant; Juana Haskin, Faculty Assistant; Special thanks to Dolores A. Kennedy, Armando I. Santana, Adolfo Gomez and the many others at the Bluhm Legal Clinic; Christel Y. Bridges and staff at the Information Technology Department, Northwestern University School of Law. Thanks to Steven G. Brozynski, Associate Director, Reprographics and Digital Services and William A. Streff Jr., P.C. Partner, Kirkland & Ellis LLP for scanning the 2000-plus indictments. Thanks also to the many others at Northwestern University, as well as the many state and county employees who assisted with this data collection. We are deeply grateful for your assistance and work.