Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a repeal Wednesday to abolish the death penalty, making his state the 16th to do away with the capital sentence. In previous articles, Quinn said the decision to repeal the law was the hardest he's had to make in office.
Fifteen men formerly on Illinois' death row now will not be executed.
A Supreme Court decision largely halted executions throughout the U.S. from 1972 to 1976, though some states re-enacted the death penalty sooner.
After its capital punishment was resumed in July 1974, Illinois executed 11 and released 20 of its death row inmates.
The most recent execution in Illinois took place in 1999, when lethal injection was used to end the life of serial killer and satanic cultist Andrew Kokoraleis.
While some argue that the fate of Illinois' death penalty should have been left for voters to decide, others say the inmates sentenced to death were the real winners after Quinn signed the repeal.
Illinois' action could have implications beyond that state's borders.
On Tuesday, state Rep. Susan Carlson, D-St. Louis, filed a bill for Missouri to repeal its death penalty. The bill has 34 co-sponsors; the House has read it twice. But no hearings had been scheduled as of Thursday, and state Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, spoke skeptically about the bill's potential.
The American Bar Association urges states to review usage of the death penalty, especially in light of wrongful and overturned convictions. In a previous Missourian article, MU law professor Paul Litton — a member of the committee reviewing Missouri's capital punishment law — described the importance of a public discussion about the death penalty.
"I don't know if the Illinois change will spark debate in Missouri, but I think it should," he said.
Litton said that just because Missouri has released only three inmates from death row, while Illinois has released 20, that "doesn't mean that Missouri has not executed an innocent person."
Missouri has had 68 executions — the fifth most in the U.S. — since it reinstated its death penalty in September 1975. Life without the option of parole is also a sentencing option.
Should Missouri abolish its death penalty?