It's been more than a decade since former Illinois Governor George Ryan imposed a moratorium on executions and cleared death row, fearing that an imperfect justice system can lead to wrongful executions. Even though no one was executed, capital punishment was still on the table-- until Friday.
In March, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a death penalty ban and cleared death row. "If the system can't be guaranteed, 100-percent error-free, then we shouldn't have the system," Quinn said at the time. "It cannot stand."
The move drew criticism from law enforcement agencies and prosecutors, who said they needed the death penalty in order to get guilty pleas from some suspects. Quinn was also on the fence, and met with groups on both sides of the issue before ultimately deciding to sign. He consulted retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and met with Sister Helen Prejean, the inspiration for the movie "Dead Man Walking.
Illinois has executed 12 men since 1977 when the death penalty was reinstated, the last one in 1999 and it is the 16th state in the nation to ban capital punishment.
Former Gov. Ryan decided to put the moratorium in place after hearing from people such as Anthony Porter. Porter had ordered his last meal and even been fitted for burial clothes when, just 48 hours before his execution, lawyers won a stay to study the question of whether he was mentally capable of killing. That provided time for a group of Northwestern University students to gather information proving Porter's innocence.
"Because of the spectacular failure to reform the system, because we have seen justice delayed for countless death row inmates, with potentially meritorious claims, and because the Illinois death penalty system is arbitrary and capricious, and therefore immoral, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death," Ryan in 2003, according to WBEZ. "I support the death penalty ... but I also think there has to be no margin for error."
The Chicago Tribune shared some other laws that go into effect Friday:
Among other new laws taking effect Friday is one that will require a bitter taste to be added to antifreeze to discourage children and animals from drinking the toxic liquid. And the state’s executive inspector general’s duties will be expanded to give him powers to investigate wrongdoing among the transit agencies that oversee the Chicago area’s local buses and trains.