Push for death penalty elimination continues with upcoming legislation

A view of the death chamber from the witness room at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility shows an electric chair and gurney Aug. 29, 2001 in Lucasville, Ohio. Photo by Mike Simons/Getty Images.

Current and former legislators, religious leaders and advocacy groups came together Wednesday to announce an upcoming bill to eliminate the death penalty in Ohio.

State Sen. Nickie J. Antonio, D-Lakewood.

State Sen. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, brought the groups together to promote the concept of life without parole being the highest criminal punishment in the state. The legislator has introduced a bill on the topic in every general assembly during her tenure.

“I believe we as a society must be better than the worst criminals and our flawed criminal justice system,” Antonio said. 

Planned joint sponsors on the bill are Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, and Sen. Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson. Roegner said she had a “change of heart” in her beliefs on the death penalty. 

She said her staunch pro-life beliefs led her to reflect on the “natural death” part of supporting life “from conception to natural death.”

State Sen. Kristina D. Roegner, R-Hudson, the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 23. Photo from Ohio Senate website.

“I don’t think it would be intellectually honest of me… there is a beating heart, that’s a human, and I just don’t think it’s right to take their lives either,” Roegner said.

Former Gov. Ted Strickland also spoke on the bill, saying he came to the conclusion that the death penalty was unfair after having to make the decisions to follow through with the death penalty as governor. 

“No system is perfect,” Strickland said. “Our criminal justice system is not perfect, and that means that we should never impose this ultimate penalty upon one of our fellow human beings.”

Jim Tobin, associate director of the Catholic Conference of Ohio, was one of several representatives from religious organizations, including the Unitarian Universalist Church and the Ohio Council of Churches.

“We now unequivocally state that the death penalty should no longer be used, that it is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” Tobin said.

When asked about the movement on Wednesday, Senate President Larry Obhof distanced himself from opponents of the death penalty.

“I don’t think cost should drive whether we should get justice for victims or not,” Obhof said. “I think that each member of the legislature should decide for himself or herself what they think the right policy is and then let that be the deciding factor.”

While Antonio said this is a bipartisan issue, other conservatives spoke out recently in support of abolishing the death penalty as well.

In a Feb. 19 gathering, Ohioans to Stop Executions joined with Conservatives Concerned About to the Death Penalty to begin a strategic campaign of shifting legislative opinion on the most severe capital punishment.