There have been many controversial topics of late, perhaps one of the most long standing debated topics is the death penalty. In Illinois the death penalty was abolished four years ago and State Representative, and former detective, John Cabello has proposed a bill to bring it back in Illinois, albeit in a new way.
One of the problems of today’s generation is their lack of respect and value for life. Whether it’s a gang initiation, some argument over turf to sell drugs, shooting and killing officers who are trying to save us, or any other form of cold blooded murder. We should be focusing our energy on stopping these killings and this is what the proposed bill is trying to do.
On Wednesday, October 7th I sat down with Cabello in his office for a one on one interview;
Q: Before you worked in politics you were a detective for the Rockford Police Department, why did you decide to go into politics?
A: Purely selfish reasons (he laughed), I saw my taxes going up and up and they couldn’t give me good roads or schools. Instead of complaining about it on the sidelines I decided to get involved to try and change it, so it’s not really a selfish reason, it is because taxes were going higher and higher and we didn’t seem to be fixing our roads or improving our schools and that is something we still haven’t achieved.
Q: Would you ever return to law enforcement?
A: Absolutely, I didn’t leave permanently, I’m just on a leave of absence. I look forward to getting back eventually and hopefully soon.
Q: Why have you decided to bring back the death penalty?
A: There’s a lot of reasons. I’ve seen lots of murders, no murder is ever nice, and I just don’t think the victim’s family has an opportunity to get all the justice they might want. This is a new death penalty, it’s not the old death penalty Illinois used to have. This really creates what we’re calling the Capital Crimes’ Legislation Act of 2015. It’s nothing like the old death penalty; this will not be for everybody that commits murder. It’s for people who kill our first responders (that’s police, fire, corrections officers, nurses, EMTs, people that are helping us and protecting us and trying to keep us safe), children under the age of 12, multiple victims, and where terrorist acts are involved. But it still has to be a murder and usually a terrorist act would involve multiple people. That’s what this new death penalty is, the way it’s written, it has bi-partison support, there’s one democrat who’s in leadership on their side of the aisle that’s a Chief Co-Sponsor Eddy Acevedo, and there’s another democrat by the name of Jerry Costello who is also a Chief Co-Sponsor. So it’s not just one party that’s trying to bring this back; it’s people on both sides of the aisle. This is also a bill that we want to make sure it’s an ironclad so that we don’t have any innocent people on death row. So if we had any of the incidences like Sandy Hook or the one that that just took place out in Utah or Colorado or anywhere where the person that is committing this kind of act and doesn’t kill themselves, or is shot and killed by the police, but are captured. We’ve got to make sure there is video evidence, DNA evidence, all different types of evidence to make sure that we have the right person so that no innocent person is ever in that position. So those that are just some of the things that are much different than the prior death penalty. The last thing is that the victim’s family has to be the one to ask for it. We seem to always forget about victim’s families and we focus in on the criminal and we need to get away from that and focus on the people that are actually suffering because of the incident. They can lobby their elected State’s Attorney to have the death penalty on the table.
Q: Why was the death penalty abolished 4 years ago?
A: I believe Illinois did because the state imposed moratorium (abolished) on executions out of concern that innocent people could be put to death by a justice system that had wrongly condemned 3 men. The new death penalty would not let anyone be executed if there were any doubt.
Q: Have violent crimes increased in the past 4 years?
A: I believe yes, some people say it has been stagnant but if you google how many shootings in Chicago in the last weekend and you‘ll see 60. Over the 4th of July weekend I think it was 84. Just in Rockford we have shootings, unfortunately, on a daily basis. Violent crimes are on the rise and it’s due to lots of different things.
In my opinion this is why Cabello is the perfect person to try to bring back the death penalty because he has experience in this area and has seen the crimes first hand.
Q: What is the most common objection to the death penalty?
A: That we’ll be killing innocent people, that it costs more than keeping them in prison for a lifetime, that it’s inhumane. Those seem to be the most talked about and I just don’t see where those actually come into play. But I’m obviously for it.
Q: What is your response to the religious opposition regarding this law?
A: Not all religious people are against it. I happen to be catholic, and I heard that the pope was asking that we abolish the death penalty and I would have to respectfully disagree with him. As many murders as I’ve had to deal with in my career, watching and dealing with the victim’s families throughout the beginning of the incident all the way until today. There are a lot of folks that feel that they didn’t have the justice that was due to them. So I would say that there are a lot of people who currently disagree with the death penalty, I just hope that it’s never one of their family members that is killed, because then they will probably change their mind on capital punishment.
Q: Does the proposed law define methods of capital punishment?
A: It does not, what we’re trying to do is if we can get this to move we want to have the discussions with lots of different people. If we’re gonna do this then I would like to see that we make this model death penalty legislation for the nation. There are some people who are considering going back to firing squads, some people think lethal injection, there’s a lot of different methods people can be extinguished by. We’ve got to look at what is the best way. Again, murder is not civil, murder is horrible and when you’re taking the life of somebody else it’s a little difficult to determine how to go about doing it. That would be a discussion we would have to have.
Q: Do you have other states in mind when reinstating the death penalty?
A: There is lots of states that don’t have the death penalty, I think 14 have the death penalty. So what we’ll do is look at the best practices. But again the bill is wrote in a certain way but it’s to be amended, we’re looking for imput, we’re looking for people to give us their ideas so that we can make this the best possible death penalty that our country can have. We are looking at other states, but is there one that sticks out right now? No, but I have not been able to read every single state that has the death penalty’s law just yet.
Q: Does this law address crimes committed by people who suffer from mental illness?
A: That would be up to the courts to decide if somebody is mentally ill, but it does take in account the problems that we have. If somebody did not understand what they were doing then they would not be eligible for the death penalty. Yes as the short answer, but it’s a much larger answer that could be given because somebody should have to prove whether they’re mentally sane or not. Some people will automatically say that they were mentally unstable at the time so that they’re not eligible for the death penalty, so they’ve got to make a case for that.
Q: Are there precautions taken to prevent anyone who is wrongfully convicted from being executed, such as a minimum amount of time from sentencing to execution?
A: Not yet, again we’re just looking at ironclad cases. One of the complaints that we have from folks is that the old death penalty had some that were on death row for 20 years, and their loved one was killed 20 years before. We would like to move up the time because if we do have people on death row for 20 years it does become more costly because if they’re on death row they are considered more of a threat which means they’re in a maximum security prison, which means that it does cost more money than a minimum security prison. We are looking at decreasing the amount of time on death row but we’re also only going to look at the cases that there is no doubt whatsoever that the person that is on trial is the person who committed the heinous acts.
I think that this bill is clearly well thought out because they have thought of all scenarios and are taking precautions to ensure that no one who is innocent, or incapable of understanding their actions is ever sentenced to the death penalty.
Q: Will this only affect people tried going forward?
A: Yes, it wouldn’t be retroactive to anyone that’s in prison now.
Q: Is there anything about the proposed bill that would prevent long drawn out appeals?
A: Not yet, I am not an attorney, so what we’re trying to do is have this discussion and bring the people who know lots more about that aspect into the discussion so that the final bill, if it were ever to be presented on the house floor, would have it in there. Again, if we lower the amount of time that people can be on death row that would also limit the amount of appeals they could have. We don’t want to execute anyone that is innocent but with this death penalty we’re looking at cases where there is no question whatsoever. Lots of people have witnessed what took place, video showing that the person committed this act, and so on.
Q: Would Confessions help speed up the process?
A: I think that the confessions would be the same weight as anything else because sometimes people confess to things they didn’t do. So we need to be mindful of that when we’re looking at it, just because I confess to something doesn’t mean I actually did it. You have to be able to prove it and that comes back to that ironclad. We want to make sure we have the right person, so if somebody says “Aw yes I did this” we don’t stop getting the rest of the evidence, we make sure it can still be proven that they did the act.
This interview certainly helped me better to understand the death penalty and why it is being brought back in Illinois 4 years after it was abolished. It has certainly been modified and improved and I am certain this will insure that no one will be wrongfully convicted with these precautions in place and the fact that they will only be looking at ironclad cases where there is multiple pieces of innocent. I also appreciate that this is more focused on the victim’s families who are the ones who are most affected by the decision the murderer made. I hope that this may enlighten many people on why this is being brought back. I want to especially thank Representative John Cabello for taking the time for the interview.