Alton, IL

Rauner on Death Penalty: More Politics than Policy?

Story by WBGZ Radio

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposal to bring back the death penalty for certain crimes got mixed reviews, but criminal justice reform advocates worry it’s more politics than policy.


Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2011. Rauner used his amendatory veto Monday to change a gun wait time bill to include reinstating the death penalty for convicted cop killers and mass murderers.


“Individuals who commit mass murder, individuals who chose to murder a law enforcement officer, they deserve to have their life taken,” Rauner said Monday in Chicago. “They deserve that.”


For some, Rauner's push seemed jarring seven years after the state abolished capital punishment.


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“The notion of reintroducing that as the world and the nation is moving in the opposite direction is really a fundamentally flawed and bad idea,” said Ed Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.


Others welcomed the proposal.


“I and the Fraternal Order of Police are grateful for Gov. Rauner’s support in imposing the death penalty in the murder of police officers,” Chicago Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham said. “This is an added measure of safety for police officers because criminals will think twice about attacking officers when they know they could face the death penalty.”


Former Gov. George Ryan effectively ended the death penalty in Illinois in 2000. In 2011, Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation ending the practice.


The death penalty is not a deterrent, said Jennifer Vollen-Katz, executive director of the John Howard Association, an independent prison monitor and criminal justice reform advocacy group. She said the move was a step back from the strides Rauner made in criminal justice reform.


“This is really unfortunate,” Vollen-Katz said. “This seems more like politics than policy and it will not benefit the people of Illinois.”


"It doesn't do any favors to the state of Illinois,” Vollen-Katz said. “It is not going to make us safer, it is not going to save us money, it is just another failed tough-on-crime policy that seems to be an attempt at gaining attention and not doing what’s right for the people of Illinois.”


Democratic candidate for governor J.B. Pritzker told reporters in Springfield on Monday that Rauner had hijacked smart legislation with the amendatory veto.


“It seems like the governor has hijacked gun safety legislation and introduced new ideas when he could have done the right thing for children and families across the state and by simply signing gun safety legislation,” Pritzker said. “If he wants to have the debate about the death penalty, he should introduce a separate bill, he should propose a separate bill, there could be all kinds of conversation about that if he’d like, but instead he’s intermingled it into bipartisan gun safety legislation.”


Pritzker said he’s against the death penalty.


State Rep. Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego, said the death penalty proposal is balanced policy – not politics – and will be an important tool for prosecutors.


“At least for negotiation purposes for other ways that they can make our counties safer,” Wheeler said. “That’s an important tool to have back in discussion.”


Wheeler said he looks forward to having that discussion in Springfield.


On reinstating the death penalty for cop killers and mass murderers, Rauner said: "Few crimes are more heinous than purposeful killings of children and peacekeepers. We didn’t propose the death penalty lightly. We had to balance the need for safety and, in the end, we wanted to make it abundantly clear we have no tolerance for such atrocities in Illinois.”


Rauner’s amendatory veto would create a new category of homicide called “death penalty murder” and would apply to those 18 and over who prosecutors charge with killing police officers or two or more people. The governor further proposed a higher standard for determining guilt in a death penalty murder: Guilt beyond all doubt. The existing standard is guilt beyond reasonable doubt.


“We want to raise the standard because we recognize legitimate concerns about the death penalty,” Rauner said. “We are intent on avoiding wrongful convictions and the injustice of inconsistency.”


The Catholic Conference of Illinois dismissed the proposed change in the burden of proof as "parsing words."


"We are distressed and alarmed by Gov. Bruce Rauner’s call for the reinstatement of the death penalty in any way, shape or form," the group said in the statement. "His call to put to death individuals convicted of mass shootings or the fatal shooting of a law enforcement officer under proof of 'beyond all doubt' instead of 'beyond a reasonable doubt' is simply parsing words. You cannot teach killing is wrong by killing."


Rauner’s changes to the bill included extending the 72-hour waiting period for all guns, not just handguns and certain guns lawmakers define as “assault weapons,” ban bump stocks and trigger cranks that make a semi-automatic mimic a full-automatic, authorize restraining orders to disarm dangerous individuals, make judges and prosecutors account for reduced charges in violent gun crimes, and free up local resources for mental health of troubled students.


The General Assembly has the option of either letting HB1468 die, agreeing with the governor’s changes using simple majorities or overriding the governor’s changes with a supermajority.


State Rep. Jonathan Carroll, D-Northbrook, is the the sponsor of the bill that Rauner changed with the amendatory veto. Carroll did not return messages seeking comment.


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