Gov. Pat Quinn also commuted the sentences of all 15 inmates remaining on death row. They will now serve life in prison with no hope of parole.
State lawmakers voted in January to abandon capital punishment, and Quinn spent two months reflecting on the issue, speaking with prosecutors, crime victims' families, death penalty opponents and religious leaders. He called it the "most difficult decision" he has made as governor.
"We have found over and over again: Mistakes have been made. Innocent people have been freed. It's not possible to create a perfect, mistake-free death penalty system," Quinn said after signing the legislation.
The executive director of a national group that studies capital punishment said
Prosecutors and some victims' families had urged Quinn to veto the measure.
The governor offered words of consolation to those who had lost loved ones to violence, saying that the "family of
Shortly before leaving office in 2003, Ryan also cleared death row, commuting the sentences of 167 inmates to life in prison.
Quinn promised to commute the sentence of anyone else who might be condemned before the law takes effect on July 1.
Anti-death penalty activists said other states have looked to
"This is a very significant action on the governor's part," said Mike Farrell, an actor best known for his role on the hit television show "MASH" and a longtime activist who is now the president of the board of directors of Death Penalty Focus in
"This is a domino in one sense, but it's a significant one."
Kristin Houle, executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, agreed, saying
"But for the last several years, I began to have my doubts," he said Wednesday.
Thompson said he came to believe the death penalty did not deter would-be murderers and that the risk of executing a single innocent person outweighed any potential benefits.
Quinn consulted with retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of
Pam Bosley said nobody is in custody in her son's death, but whoever killed him does not deserve to live.
"I don't want them to breathe the air that I breathe," said Bosley, whose 18-year-old son, Terrell Bosley, was killed in front of a church on
Bill Sloop, a truck driver from
Quinn "shouldn't have done what he did," Sloop said.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan appealed directly to Quinn to veto the bill, as did several county prosecutors and victims' families. They said safeguards, including videotaped interrogations and easier access to
Madigan declined to comment on Quinn's decision.
But death penalty opponents argued that there was still no guarantee that an innocent person couldn't be put to death. Quinn's lieutenant governor, Sheila Simon, herself a former prosecutor, urged him to sign the bill.
Kokoraleis, convicted of mutilating and murdering a 21-year-old woman, was put to death by lethal injection.
Associated Press writers John O'Connor in