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Measure To Abolish Death Penalty Advances In Springfield

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBS) -- An Illinois House committee has endorsed a proposal to abolish the death penalty.

A criminal law committee voted 4-3 Tuesday morning to send the proposal, Senate Bill 3539, to the full House. State Rep. Karen Yarbrough (D-Maywood) said she might call the measure for a House vote later in the day.

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Jerry Hobbs, who spent five years in jail, accused of killing his daughter and her friend, has been working with groups trying to abolish the death penalty.

He spoke with CBS 2's Kristyn Hartman about his daughter, the death penalty and his time behind bars.

His lawyers say prosecutors forced a false confession, and later sat on the DNA evidence that ultimately cleared him.

Laura Hobbs, 8, and Krystal Tobias, 9, were found stabbed to death in Zion on Mother's Day, 2005. Laura Hobbs' father, Jerry, was jailed for five years charged with the two girls' murders. He was released in August because DNA evidence implicated another man.

During his stint in jail, Hobbs said he got used to people not believing his protests that he was wrongly detained.

"It's hard. As it goes on, you just watch time go by," he told Hartman in Springfield, where he was meeting this week with legislators on a bill to abolish the state's death penalty.

Former Gov. George Ryan halted executions in Illinois in 2000 after 13 men on death row had been exonerated. He also cleared out death row, commuting the sentences of all condemned inmates in Illinois at the time.

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and current Gov. Pat Quinn have continued with the moratorium even after death penalty reforms were put into place. Prosecutors have continued to seek the death penalty and there are now 15 inmates on death row and a governor could resume executions at any time.

But the measure under debate would abolish the death penalty altogether in Illinois. Proponents say the death penalty doesn't deter crime, is expensive and the system is long and tortuous.

Opponents complained that the issue is too important to decide in the three days remaining in the Legislature's fall session. They say reforms legislators adopted in 2003 are working.

But Hobbs said the death penalty is wrong because it leaves no room for error.

"I thought about my daughter a lot more than I thought about myself. As far as an end, there will never be an end to it," Hobbs said. "Because I've lost my baby girl and I'll never be able to get her back."

Being branded a child killer has changed his life, Hobbs said.

"People look at you different," he said. "Not your loved ones, or people who are your true friends. Once they realize who you are, once they realize everything that's happened, some people don't want to believe certain things and some people do. It's hard to explain."

Hobbs said he now wants justice for his daughter and her friend, even though the process is moving slowly.

Attention in the murders is now focused on Jorge Torrez, 21, a former U.S. Marine and former Zion resident. His DNA has been linked to the crime scene. He was recently convicted of kidnapping and raping a college student in Virginia.

"They know they were wrong...and they need to clean up the mess they made," Hobbs said. "I'm more angry about that than all the rest of it besides my little girl."

"Instead of trying to get it right, they kept going with it...and making it more wrong," he added.

Hobbs now lives with family in Texas, but he returned to Illinois this week to help lobby lawmakers to abolish the death penalty.

He hopes they'll think of him when they vote on the proposal.

He said the death penalty needs to be abolished because too many death row inmates have been exonerated and the government needs to eliminate the risk of executing an innocent person.

Hobbs planned to file a lawsuit later this week to take Lake County prosecutors to task for his case, one he says will never end.

"I lost my girl and I'll never get her back," Hobbs said, adding that he wants justice for his daughter and her friend.

Lake County prosecutors have not returned repeated calls for information on the status of the case and for reaction to Hobbs' comments.

(TM and © Copyright 2010 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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