STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Illinois is close to joining 15 other states that do not have the death penalty. Illinois placed a moratorium on executions a decade ago, after several wrongfully convicted death row inmates were exonerated. Now lawmakers have passed and sent to the governor a bill to repeal the death penalty altogether. From Springfield, Illinois, NPR's David Schaper reports.
DAVID SCHAPER: Randy Steidl spent more than 17 years in prison and 12 of them on Illinois' death row for the 1986 brutal double murder of a couple in the downstate town of Paris, Illinois.
M: The prosecutor and the police used the town drunk, a drug addict woman, and a jailhouse snitch to gain their convictions, with no physical or forensic evidence tying me to the crime, and I had a corroborated alibi.
SCHAPER: That wrongful conviction cost Steidl 17 years, three months and three weeks of his life.
M: It's not just what it did to me. It's the unspeakable effects it had on my family. I had a nine-year-old son at the time and a 15-year-old daughter. They grew up without me. I had to watch them grow up in pictures.
SCHAPER: A decade later, a majority of Illinois lawmakers say the system is irreparably broken. On the floor of the Illinois Senate, Republican Dan Duffy told his colleagues the death penalty doesn't make the state safer and has been an ineffective and expensive waste of resources.
INSKEEP: Illinois has spent millions of dollars for decades trying to correct the death penalty's flawed process. What we have learned after all this time is that the system cannot be fixed. To continue on a path which is flawed would be a critical mistake.
SCHAPER: But during two hours of emotional debate in the Illinois Senate, capital punishment supporters made the case that the death penalty is a vital law enforcement tool. Republican John Millner is a former suburban Chicago police chief. He says just the threat of the death penalty often leads murderers to take plea bargains instead of going to trial.
INSKEEP: The victims' families, the pain, I'm telling you, I sit with these people, I talk to these people, I know these people - I see what changes go on in their lives. And they're - they're struggling with this. And now they have to go to trial and when they go to trial, they have to relive this entire situation again. Folks, this is painful.
SCHAPER: Others argue the death penalty is a deterrent and is needed for the most heinous crimes, with some invoking this past weekend's shootings in Arizona, an argument Chicago Democrat Rickey Hendon refuted.
INSKEEP: Arizona's got the death penalty. It didn't stop that crank. It didn't stop that idiot. It's not the deterrent that you think.
SCHAPER: David Schaper, NPR News, in Springfield, Illinois.
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