SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois House approved repeal of the state’s death penalty Thursday, a decade after then-Gov. George Ryan imposed a moratorium on executions.

SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois House approved repeal of the state’s death penalty Thursday, a decade after then-Gov. George Ryan imposed a moratorium on executions.

The bill passed on a 60-54 vote; it needed 60 to pass. The legislation now goes to the Illinois Senate, where it must pass before heading to Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk. Quinn has said he favors the death penalty for the worst crimes.

It took two separate votes for the measure to clear the House Thursday. The legislation failed by a single vote in the afternoon, but its sponsor, Rep. Karen Yarbrough, D-Maywood, used a parliamentary maneuver to allow another vote.

Randy Steidl, one of 20 exonerated death row inmates, praised the House’s actions and said he believes Quinn will change his mind.

“It’s a long time coming,” Steidl said in an interview. “Illinois has an opportunity to put this barbaric system behind us that’s put 20 innocent people on death row.

“It guarantees no innocent people will end up on Illinois’ death row again.”

During the first debate on the bill, lawmakers who wanted to keep the death penalty invoked stomach-churning images of heinous crimes committed against children.

Rep. Jim Sacia, R-Pecatonica, a former FBI agent, said law enforcement often uses the death penalty as a tool to induce cooperation from criminals.

Sacia told the story of Joseph Didier, a 15-year-old boy who was murdered by Robert Lower, a man known for committing sexual abuse.

“There’s no doubt who committed the crime. He (Lower) admitted the crime.

“The only way law enforcement was able to get that person to tell us where (the boy) was, was to convince him he would not face the death penalty if he would talk,” Sacia said. “And he talked and he told us where to find the boy.”

Rep. Monique Davis, D-Chicago, suggested that there are worse punishments than death, invoking the case of Ryan, who is serving time at a federal prison in Indiana after being convicted of corruption. His wife, Lura Lynn, was admitted to the intensive care unit of a Kanakee hospital this week. Ryan’s lawyers were trying Thursday to get him out of jail, at least temporarily, so he can be with his wife.

“There can be a worse punishment than the death penalty," Davis said. "Being kept from a loved one who's dying as you sit in a federal prison might appear to be a punishment greater than the death penalty.”

Rep. Rich Brauer, R-Petersburg, and Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield, both voted "no."

"I believe it is a deterrent," Poe said. "I believe it's a tool of the law enforcement communities, so they can get convictions."

"I think when you look at something like this, it's very emotional, and certainly people vote their own district,” he said. “In my district, you're certainly going to have some people that are opposed to it, but the majority is certainly in favor of it, as I am myself.”

 

Chris Wetterich can be reached at (217) 788-1523. Staff writer Andy Brownfield contributed to this report.