The Catholic Conference of Illinois decried the governor’s call to re-establish the death penalty, which has not been used in the state in nearly 20 years.
“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 conference said in a May 14 statement.
“We are all God’s children, and our first — and primary — right to life must always be protected and unconditional.”
On Monday, Governor Rauner encouraged lawmakers to reinstate capital punishment in Illinois for individuals convicted of mass murder or the death of a police officer.
“Anyone who deliberately kills a law enforcement officer or is a mass murderer deserves the death penalty,” he wrote to the Illinois House of Representatives.
The recommendation came in an amendatory veto message for House Bill 1468, which would require a 72-hour waiting period before an assault weapon is purchased.
The governor cited child safety as his reason for wanting to reintroduce the death penalty. He drew attention to several recent attacks in U.S. schools.
“There is nothing more precious than our children, and they deserve to be safe and cared for at school,” he said.
Last month, an Illinois task force was created to map out a defense against school violence.
Governor Rauner said the death penalty should only be used in cases where an individual is guilty “beyond all doubt” rather than the often-used standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” He said this would help avoid wrongful convictions, such as those that contributed to the abolishment of the state’s death penalty.
However, the Catholic Conference rejected the idea of reinstating the death penalty in certain cases “beyond all doubt” instead of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” saying that this distinction “is simply parsing words.”
“You cannot teach killing is wrong by killing.”
The death penalty has not been used in Illinois since 1999. Then-governor George Ryan issued a moratorium on the practice in 2000, following a report in the Chicago Tribune detailing flaws in the state’s capital punishment system.
The report said that the system was “so riddled with faulty evidence, unscrupulous trial tactics and legal incompetence that justice has been forsaken.”
Among other problems, the newspaper pointed to inaccurate juries, incompetent defending lawyers, and unreliable forensic tests. These were among the errors that occurred with 12 wrongfully convicted death row inmates who were later exonerated, the article stated.
Before leaving office in 2003, Governor Ryan commuted the death sentences of more than 160 death row inmates. In 2011, the death penalty was abolished in Illinois by then-governor Pat Quinn.