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Illinois Death Penalty Ban Wouldn't Affect 15 Inmates Currently On Death Row

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As the state of Illinois waits for Governor Pat Quinn's decision on whether to sign a bill banning the death penalty, the Chicago media has turned its attention to the 15 men currently awaiting a death sentence.

The Chicago Sun-Times ran a story today on "The 15 Inmates of Death Row," describing the offenses each had committed. And the paper spoke with the father of a 10-year-old girl murdered in 1983, whose killer is currently on Death Row.

"He's earned capital punishment," said Thomas Nicarico, father of the slain Jeanine, about his daughter's killer Brian Dugan. After pleading guilty to Nicarico's murder in 2009, Dugan was sentenced to death. "He's earned the most severe punishment the state can give -- and now the state is taking it away."

"Slain Jeanine Nicarico's father: Death penalty move a 'cop out'," the Sun-Times headline reads.

It's certainly a sensational line -- but it's not exactly true, notes the Capitol Fax's Rich Miller.

Miller points to an article in the suburban Daily Herald newspaper, which rightly clears up the issue:

Even if Gov. Pat Quinn signs legislation that would repeal the death penalty, it would have no bearing on 15 inmates on death row.

...
"It will only affect future sentencing," said Sharyn Elman, a Corrections spokeswoman, said Wednesday of the proposed ban.

Miller also spoke to State Senator Kwame Raoul, a sponsor of the death penalty ban, who confirmed that it would not apply retroactively to the 15 already sentenced.

In his typical no-nonsense style, Miller writes: "Everybody really needs to calm down, including the reporters. Take a breath, people. Look at what actually passed."

Illinois currently has a moratorium on death penalties being carried out, in large part due to the wrongful conviction of two separate men in the same Jeanine Nicarico murder. If the ban is signed into law, Gov. Quinn could lift that moratorium, allowing the 15 men to be executed; he could keep the moratorium in place; or he could work to commute their sentences to life in prison or something similar.

Meanwhile, the Sun-Times's columnist Michael Sneed suggests that some politicians may move to reinstate the death penalty in some cases:

If Quinn does [sign the ban], watch for Sen. Kirk Dillard, Republican leader of the Judiciary Committee, to push to reinstate the death penalty for the worst of the worst crimes: mass murder and the murder of children and law enforcement officers.

For now, though, the fates of the 15 men on death row, as well as that of the state's death penalty policy, rest on the tip of Governor Quinn's pen.

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