Does Illinois Have The Death Penalty?


The death penalty divides opinion in the United States. In some states it is considered to be almost sacred; a part of the criminal justice system and one that cannot be taken away from Americans.

It is seen as being integral to preventing crime from occurring and ensuring that the US remains a law abiding and safe country.

However, as with any issue in America, there is a division of opinion. Whilst many people and many states are very much in favor of the death penalty there are an equally loud and prominent amount of people who are opposed to the death penalty.

These people are spread throughout the entire country though many of them are located in states that no longer have the death penalty.

If you are curious as to the status of your state in relation to the death penalty, then you need to find out which states have it and which states don’t.

There are many states in which the death penalty was out of favor before becoming the law of the land again; many who were capital states and are now no longer executing convicted criminals.

If you are wondering for example does Illinois have the death penalty and what is the history of the death penalty in that state, then you have come to the right article.

This piece will set out all you need to know about the death penalty in Illinois.

Does Illinois Have The Death Penalty

Does Illinois Have The Death Penalty?

First of all, let’s answer the most straightforward and simplest question – does Illinois have the death penalty or not?

Illinois no longer has the death penalty and has not been a capital states since 2011 when the then Governor Pat Quinn abolished the death penalty in the state.

The history of the death penalty in Illinois is a complex one and worth telling if you wish to understand why the state no longer has the death penalty.

The Death Penalty In Illinois

Now that we have explained that the death penalty no longer applies in Illinois, let’s explain exactly why the death penalty was repealed in a state that was once at the heart of capital punishment in the United States.

For decades in Illinois, execution was mandatory for all person who were convicted of murder and swiftly carried out.

The method of execution was for a long time death by hanging however hanging as a method of execution was outlawed in 1928 because it was not considered the most humane method of execution.

The last person to be executed by hanging in Illinois was Charles Birger, a Russian Jewish bootlegger who had been at war with both the KKK and other organizations for decades.

Birger was charged with the murder of Joe Adams, a mechanic who worked for the rival Shelton Gang and who refused to helped Birger in his war with the Shelton’s.

Birger when arrested went quietly as he believed that he was going to be taken to a county court which he controlled; he was sadly mistaken and convicted and sentenced to hang.

It was believed for a long time, not just by the people of Illinois but also by people across the United States that by hanging people like Birger, society would become better, and it would send a message to those who had also committed similar crimes not to commit anymore.

However, this was of course not the case, and the threat of execution was not stop any of the people who were sentenced to death in the decades after Birger’s death.

Things seemed as if they would change forcefully, however, in 1972 when in the wake of a landmark case involving the state of Georgia, it seemed as if executions across the United States would be over.

The case of Furman v Georgia which went before the Supreme Court effectively ended the death penalty nationwide, however, many states including Illinois would do their best to get it reinstated as quickly as possible.

This came only two years later for Illinois when attempted to reinstate the death penalty for murder. However, the Illinois Supreme Court made the death penalty illegal again only a year later.

Illinois’ indecision over the death penalty would seemingly be settled in 1977 when it was reinstated and executions could begin again.

By the 1980s the long out of date hanging had been replaced by both the electric chair and the lethal injection, both the methods of choice for more executions in the United States since the late 1970s and still the methods used today in many states.

It would be during the 1980s that attempts would be made by people like convicted serial killer John Wayne Gacy to argue that they should be spared the death penalty because it wasn’t humane.

Gacy, one of the vilest murders to have ever existed in the United States, would eventually be executed in 1994, some fourteen years after his conviction and sentencing in 1980.

Gacy’s execution was greeted by many and seemed to indicate that capital punishment would remain a part of Illinois’ legal system for a long time to come.

However, the final execution to occur in Illinois would in fact come only five years later in 1999. The man executed was Andrew Kokoraleis, a serial killer and member of the disturbing Satanist cult The Ripper Crew that was involved in the murder of 18 women in 1981 and 1982.

Kokoraleis and his brother Thomas had worked with their leader Robin Gecht and another associate Edward Spreitzer.

Despite all being convicted and only Thomas Kokoraleis given life imprisonment initially rather than the death sentence, only Andrew Kokoraleis would be executed.

This would be in part due to events a few years later when Governor George Ryan commuted over 160 of Illinois’ death row inmates to life in prison not long before he relinquished his position as Governor.

Ryan had been an opponent of the death penalty for years, having enacted an effective pause on all execution in 1999 not long after the execution of Andrew Kokoraleis.

Many have questioned Ryan’s motives given that not long after departing the Governor’s office he was charged with corruption and sentenced to prison.

Whilst this might have seemed like only another brief pause to the death penalty in Illinois, as the events of the 1970s were, it seems likely that it may not be permanent.

In 2011 Governor Pat Quinn abolished the death penalty state-wide and though there have been attempts to bring it back none have yet been successful.

Regardless of your opinion on the death penalty or not, it is clear that Illinois has continued to function as a state and has not been overrun by crime since the last execution was carried out in 1999, some twenty-two years ago.

The Death Penalty In Illinois

Why Knowing About The Death Penalty Is Important

Knowing about the death penalty in various states is important, whether you live in them or not.

The death penalty is one of the most powerful sentences that can be enacted on anyone in the United States and as such should always be considered carefully and not enacted without due thought and consideration.

Whether you are for or against the death penalty, we can all agree that it is important that more is done to communicate with people on the opposite side of the debate in order to fully understand the other person’s point of view.

Only through understanding one another can we move forward and make American an even greater country than it already is.