Conservatives announce coalition to eliminate death penalty

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Conservative leadership in the Ohio House joined advocates in announcing a new effort to eliminate the death penalty in the state.

The Ohio chapter of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, in conjunction with Ohioans to Stop Executions, met at the Statehouse on Tuesday to announce plans to lift support in the legislature and in the public for an end to the most severe capital punishment, something that has already happened in half the other states in the nation.

“We were starting to recognize that the death penalty didn’t align with conservative views,” said Hannah Cox, organizer for the Ohio chapter.

Those who spoke at the event said they were all supportive of the death penalty at one time in their lives, but their minds were changed through life events, especially Jonathan Mann, who is still wading through the criminal justice system as a man convicted of murdering his father appeals the conviction. A jury in July recommended the death sentence for Thomas Knuff in the case.

Knuff fatally stabbed Mann’s father, John Mann, and a woman who had been Knuff’s prison pen-pal.

Jonathan Mann had to learn to cope with the loss of his father, along with remaining vigilant as the court case continued on.

“I also wanted Thomas dead and any avenue that facilitated that end was acceptable to me,” Jonathan Mann said. “The residue of that toxicity is hard to scrub off your soul, but I got lucky.”

The years-long process of trial, which is still ongoing, was part of why Jonathan Mann ultimately came to believe the death penalty was not the right option for his father’s killer, or anyone else.

The cost of the entire process, 70% of which is estimated to be used during the trial process and not the execution itself, was also not worth it, Jonathan Mann reasoned, nor would it resolve the grief he felt.

“I realized that killing this man would not bring him (John Mann) back or make me whole again,” Jonathan Mann said on Tuesday.

Others had newfound opposition of the death penalty through jury service on a death penalty case, and in many cases, walking through the room in which death sentences are carried out.

Rep. Laura Lanese, R-Grove City and assistant majority whip in the House, had that experience while working in the death penalty section of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. She said if she couldn’t bring herself to inject the fatal drugs herself, she couldn’t support the practice, and couldn’t trust the state government to do the same.

“To give big government power over life and death is rather concerning to a lot of us,” Lanese said. “We know that government has a lot of difficulties sorting out paperwork, how are they determining who should live and who should die?”

Lanese said leadership at the top level of that government has begun their own reflections and discussions about the issue, and she is confident more will be getting on board with the effort.

Speaker Larry Householder said in a recent AP political forum the majority caucus has been speaking about the issue, and the caucus is “mixed” on what to do about it.

“I look at it from a purely fiscal conservative standpoint and say maybe it’s time that we look at putting people away for life in prison with no parole,” Householder said. “I think maybe it’s a far greater penalty on people to have to live by themselves in a cell and deal with the demons that they have in their life for the crimes that they’ve committed.”

At the same forum, Senate President Larry Obhof said there is bipartisan support for elimination of some parts of the death penalty, such as situations in which the person is mentally ill. He said discussions are ongoing about the issue, but seeing an end in the near future probably isn’t on the table.

“If the question is are we planning to abolish the death penalty all together, I would say I think that’s an unlikely outcome in the next 12 months,” Obhof said.

But a bill seeking to do just that is being planned in the Senate.

As she has in every general assembly since she was elected, Sen. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, plans to introduce the measure in the next few weeks. She is currently gathering co-sponsors and compiling more information for the bill.

Antonio said she encourages the new push from conservatives.

“I welcome anybody who comes to the conclusion that it’s not in the best interest of the people of the state to have the death penalty as an option in criminal justice,” Antonio said.

She has had bipartisan support for the bill in the past, including from former Attorney General Jim Petro, who also signed a statement of support for the Conservatives Concerned About The Death Penalty that includes several other current and former elected officials and politicians from Ohio.