Congratulations Illinois: Death Penalty Abolished!

March 9, 2011

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn

March 9, 2011– Today Gov. Pat Quinn made the courageous decision that has led to Illinois becoming the 16th state to abolish the death penalty. Today marks a triumphant victory for abolition advocates across the state, for national allies, and for families who have worked tirelessly over the past decade to see the end of a system that has been deemed “cruel and unusual” and “too flawed to fix.”

For decades JCUA has been working with our allies to end the death penalty system in Illinois.  We want to thank all of you at JCUA that have worked with us over the years on this issue and also those who called the governor over the past six weeks urging him to take this critical step to ensure the fulfillment of the human right of all Illinois residents to life with respect and dignity.

We’d also like to thank all local and statewide advocates, and our national allies who have worked tirelessly over the past decade. In particular we commend the organizers and advocates at Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty for their courage and their clarity to see this legislation through to the very end.

Lastly we commend the state legislature and Gov. Quinn for taking the time to hear the will of the people on this matter and for making the choice that the people support. Our collective hard work on this issue will ensure that Illinois serve as a beacon of hope for advocates and legislators in other states across the country.

Our hard work proves that when we work together in solidarity, justice can and will be achieved.

Burge Torture Survivor Left with “A Growing, Burning Feeling”

January 20, 2011

By Katherine Randall
Communications Coordinator, JCUA

Anthony Holmes has trouble sleeping at night. He has nightmares and often wakes up in a cold sweat. Holmes spent 30 years in prison for a murder he said he didn’t commit. And though Holmes has physically left prison, his mind remains trapped in thoughts of the torture he endured at the hands of former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge.

“Jon Burge shocked me and suffocated me and forced me to admit to a murder I didn’t do,” said Holmes. “He tried to kill me. It leaves a growing, burning feeling. I have nightmares and see myself falling into a deep hole and I have no one to get me out.”

Police torture victims (left to right) Victor Saffold, Mark clements, Anthony Holmes and Darrell Cannon. Photo taken by Brian Jackson of the Sun-Times

Holmes was one of several witnesses to testify at Burge’s Jan. 20 sentencing hearing. And though the prosecutors are pushing for a sentence of at least 30 years, U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow only extended Burge’s suggested sentence of 15 to 21 months in prison to 21 to 27 months.

“That’s a slap in the face to everybody that was in that station house being tortured by Burge,” said Dickie Gaines, a longtime Chicago community activist and friend to several Burge torture survivors. “I think his sentence should be a maximum sentence,” he said.

Zakiyyah Muhammad, another community activist close to several of the torture victims, said she would be okay with Burge’s light sentence under one condition.

“If it can be a life of hell and torture then it can be okay because that’s what Burge put hundreds of men and women through,” she said.

Melvin Jones, another torture survivor who testified at Burge’s hearing, said he was still going through such a life of hell and torture.

“It comes back in my everyday life. It comes back in my dreams. It comes back every day I walk this earth,” said Jones.

Read the rest of this entry »

JCUA News: Death Penalty Repeal: Call the Govenor! / MLK Event this Sunday / and more…

January 13, 2011

Check out the latest JCUA newsletter and find out about:

  • How you can help Illinois become the 16th state without a death penalty
  • Upcoming events
  • Registration for the Summer 2011 session of Or Tzedek

View the newsletter here and share it with your friends!

Is the Death Penalty Kosher?

January 4, 2011

[This article is in reference to the Huffington Post article “The Jewish Precedent for a Moral Death Penalty” by Brad Hirschfield and “A Few Reflections on Capital Punishment” by Rabbi Yosef Edelstein]

Irene Lehrer Sandalow
Director of Strategy and Jewish Affairs, JCUA

Irene Lehrer Sandalow, Director of Strategy and Jewish Affairs

Capital punishment is kosher in theory, according to the Torah. But in the light of Jewish values and traditions, the morality of capital punishment should be questioned.

In the Torah portion “Noah,” after the flood, God tells Noah:

“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6).

It is not morally wrong, in absolute terms, to put a murderer to death, however, according to leading Orthodox rabbis, the death penalty today is not practical and should not be administered.

As Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, zt’l, a noted American Orthodox rabbi, writes in the second volume of the Handbook of Jewish Thought:

“The system of judicial punishments could become brutal and barbaric unless administered in an atmosphere of the highest morality and piety.  When these standards declined among the Jewish people, the Sanhedrin, which was the Jewish supreme court and legislative body, voluntarily abolished this system of penalties.”

There is great concern expressed both in the legislation of the Torah, and in the sentiments of some of our great sages, regarding practical implementation of the death penalty.

Read the rest of this entry »

End the Death Penalty in Illinois

December 28, 2010

Illinois finds itself at a crossroads on the death penalty.

Executions have been on hold for a decade, leaving Illinois with a death penalty in name only. In these 10 years we’ve seen firsthand that our death penalty system can’t be repaired.

Despite our best efforts, Illinois’ death penalty still carries the risk of sentencing the innocent to death, fails to meet the real needs of murder victims’ families and is far more expensive than the alternative of life without parole. New legislation — SB 3539 — soon will be introduced to repeal the death penalty and re-allocate the funding for the death penalty toward assistance to law enforcement and services for murder victims’ families.

Read this important Jewish perspective on this issue by Rabbi Brad Hirschfield:

“Ultimately, Jewish tradition values the idea of the death penalty as a moral statement, but hates its imposition on ethical grounds. Interestingly, that is where it seems many Americans stand when it comes to the issue as well. Perhaps now is the time to go back to the future when it comes to thinking about the death penalty.” (Read the full article here.)

Your Help is Needed

The bill  is headed to the Illinois House  in January. We need your help to get the repeal of the death penalty passed. Here’s what you can do:

1. Please call your legislators today to ask them to support SB3539 to repeal the death penalty. To find your legislator, click here.

This is what you can tell them:

“I’m a constituent and I’m calling to urge you to support SB3539.”

2. Join the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty for bus trip to Springfield on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011 (learn more).

Questions About the Death Penalty in Illinois?

Read the fact sheet or contact Michaela Purdue at

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