Ill. lawmakers seek return of death penalty for cop killers

"We have to make it clear we have our officers' backs," said State Rep. Darren Bailey


By Zach Roth
Effingham Daily News, Ill.

EFFINGHAM, Ill. — State Senator and current Republican gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey, R- Louisville, stopped in Effingham this week to promote a bill that would restore the death penalty for anyone convicted of killing a police officer who is on duty.

Along with State Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R- Beecher City, Bailey's legislation — Senate Bill 3899 — would give prosecutors the option to pursue capital punishment against anyone over the age of 18 guilty of killing an officer on duty. Wilhour will file separate legislation in the House with the same effect.

The bill would attempt to pierce the state's ban on the death penalty, signed into law in 2011 by then-Gov. Pat Quinn. At that time, there was a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois, put into place by former Gov. George Ryan in 2000. During his final days in office, Ryan commuted the sentences of 167 death row inmates across Illinois.

Bailey said the bill was necessary due to what he feels is a culture in which law enforcement is under attack, due in large part to a suite of criminal justice reform bills passed in the Illinois General Assembly last year. He believes law enforcement and prosecutors are — figuratively — handcuffed in their ability to go after those who take the lives of police officers who are performing their duties.

"Law enforcement is under attack and it's because here in Illinois, Springfield has failed them," Bailey said. "We need leaders in Springfield willing to stand up and fight for them against a radical agenda that seems to prioritize criminals over cops and puts law enforcement communities and our families at risk."

Bailey, backed by law enforcement officials from across the area, said the bill would be a message that any kind of attack against law enforcement could carry the weight of the death penalty and would show that the state had the backs of police officers and sheriff's deputies across the state.

"We need to send a clear message out there to the law enforcement community that we will not allow heinous attacks against the very people who are serving to protect us," Bailey said. "We have to make it clear we have our officers' backs. An attack against our officers is an assault against the safety and security of our communities."

Wilhour said the situation in Illinois was turning out of control, with noted cases of violence against police in areas like Chicago seeping into other areas. He felt the policies passed by the Democratic legislature and signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, were tantamount to appeasement to criminals.

"Law enforcement officers are being overworked, disrespected, and put at unacceptable and unnecessary risk by politicians in this state and in our country," Wilhour said. " Illinois government, starting with Governor Pritzker, has been overrun by radicals who are aggressively pushing policies that punish the police and put them at unnecessary risk. Vilifying the police has catastrophic consequences and we will not tolerate it."

The Effingham Police Department hosted Wednesday's press conference, with Chief Jason McFarland speaking in support of the bill. He acknowledged the complex nature of the issue while supporting the general message of the bill.

"The solution to this tragic problem isn't simple and isn't easy," McFarland said. "But I do believe it will — and must — begin with the citizens of our community and state. We need legislators who will provide legislation that will allow the court system to succeed (and) to allow for more aggressive prosecution for violent crime in every part of our state.

"It is time we hold violent criminals more accountable with sentences that not only keep the criminal off the street, but also serve as a deterrent to other offenders who commit violent crimes."

The dignitaries were also joined by Amber Oberheim, widow of a Champaign police officer killed on May 19, 2021, by Darion Lafayette, a man involved in a domestic dispute with the mother of his children. Lafayette was shot dead by Oberheim's partner.

Oberheim said legislation such as Bailey's could go a long way in deterring people from taking the same action that her husband's killer did. She said people in the state shouldn't tolerate deaths of law enforcement in the manner her husband experienced.

"The current attack on law enforcement is unprecedented," Oberheim said. "Unprecedented times call for swift, effective unprecedented measures to stop the threat inflicted by career criminals who possess a blatant disregard for life."

Getting the bill passed will be a challenge. With superminorities in both the House and Senate, Bailey and Wilhour will need to find some Democrats willing to support the legislation. Bailey is optimistic he can do this as he feels some members of the opposing party are open to backing a bill of this nature.

"The timing is really right," Bailey said. "People all over the state are fed up. They're scared, frustrated and concerned. Many times when I sit down with Democrats, they think, feel and agree with the common-sense issues. It feels like there's some overarching umbrella that keeps them at bay on that one point on the specific agenda."

(c)2022 the Effingham Daily News (Effingham, Ill.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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