Here, from the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, is the letter that 35 murder victims' family members signed and submitted to lawmakers in support of the death penalty repeal bill:
Murder Victims’ Families Support Repealing the Death Penalty
Dear Members of the Illinois General Assembly,
We are family members and loved ones of murder victims. We desperately miss the parents, children, siblings, and spouses we have lost.
We live with the pain and heartbreak of their absence every day and would do anything to have them back.
We did not choose to be involved in the criminal justice system, but our experience compels us to speak out for change.
We are writing today to ask for your support in eliminating the death penalty from Illinois Criminal Code. Though we share different perspectives on the death penalty, each one of us agrees that Illinois’ capital punishment system doesn’t work for victims’ families and that our state is better off without it.
To be meaningful, justice should be swift and sure. The death penalty is neither. Capital trials drag victims’ loved ones through an agonizing and lengthy process, which often does not result in the intended punishment. A life without parole sentence right from the start would keep society safe, hold killers responsible for their brutal and depraved acts, and would start as soon as we left the courtroom instead of leaving us in limbo.
At the same time, eliminating the death penalty would save scarce funds. As Illinois taxpayers, we have spent millions of dollars and diverted endless hours of court and law enforcement time since capital punishment was reinstated. What has it brought us? Years of appeals in all cases, wrongful convictions in some cases, a process that has clogged our courts, and a system so broken that it cannot be fixed.
Those resources could be spent in better ways. Illinois could put more police on our streets and provide them with the best equipment available. Law enforcement programs that work might have prevented the tragedies we suffered at only a fraction of the cost of pursuing capital cases. A legal system that wasn’t bogged down with committing tremendous resources on capital cases could prosecute and sentence countless other crimes and take dangerous people off the streets before they commit murder. Dollars saved could be put toward counseling for victims of crime or other services we desperately need as we attempt to get on with our lives.
Only a handful of arbitrarily selected murderers are sentenced to death. In 2008 there were 790 murders in Illinois and 3 death sentences. Instead of investing our resources in a punishment that affects very few offenders, we should focus on programs that can help many survivors. It is vitally important that Illinois address the needs of surviving family and friends as we struggle to heal.
We know that elected officials who promote the death penalty often do so with the best intentions of helping family members like us. We are writing to say that there are better ways to help us.
The death penalty is a broken and costly system. Illinois doesn’t need it, and victims’ families like ours don’t want it.