Candidate aims to reform death penalty process

By Peter Schuh

A Democratic candidate for the Illinois Senate held a news conference Tuesday to discuss his proposal for legislation to speed up the state of Illinois’ death penalty.

John M. Nelson, a Rockford attorney, is campaigning for the 35th District seat, which houses NIU, DeKalb and Sycamore.

The proposed legislation would require “any attorney appointed or assigned to represent an indigent defendant subject to the death penalty must be state certified to represent clients subject to the death penalty.”

Additionally, Nelson added a requirement that all attorneys assigned or appointed to a death row case have at least five years of experience in criminal justice.

Nelson also advocated full funding of the state Capital Resource Center, in order to ensure every defendant the opportunity of a capable and fair defense.

Nelson’s last suggestion was the establishment of an appellate court specifically for the review of death penalty cases. He said he felt this would relieve some of the time strain on the Illinois Supreme Court.

“If the review court does its job properly, I expect a summary review by the Illinois Supreme Court would be sufficient,” Nelson said.

A recent survey in the Stanford Law Review reported that it costs Illinois taxpayers $22,000 per year to keep the average prisoner in jail. For death row inmates, of which there are 141, the survey stated the cost from $1.6 million to $3.2 million.

Nelson said his proposed legislation would lower the high cost to taxpayers, which he blamed on “mistakes alleged to have been committed by the defendant’s trial attorney.”

“The public favors the death penalty by an 80 percent margin,” he said. “By streamlining the process, we can have a chance as a society to determine whether it is a worthwhile punishment society should impose.”