By Jonathan Mann
Thomas Knuff, the man who murdered my father, was sentenced to death in 2019. Knuff brutally murdered my father and I live with the pain and grief of that violent loss every single day. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley sought the death penalty for Thomas Knuff and got the conviction. But when Knuff was sentenced to death, I too was sentenced to decades of pain, excruciating uncertainty, and reliving the worst day of my life over and over again.
The Capital Crimes Report recently released by Attorney General Dave Yost said that of the people who have been executed in Ohio since 1981, the average amount of time they spent on death row is 17 years. Yost affirmed that these delays were unacceptable and offered two options: Speed up the death penalty process or get rid of it — quickly.
Unfortunately, speeding up the process isn’t an option in Ohio. Ohio has sentenced 11 innocent people to die. Since the reinstatement of Ohio’s death penalty, the state has executed 56 people. That means for every five executions, one person has been exonerated. If we speed up the process, we seriously risk executing an innocent person. In fact, Cuyahoga County is second in the country for most wrongful death sentences.
Cuyahoga County is the county that sentenced my dad’s murderer to death. During Knuff’s trial, it was clear that my voice as a victim didn’t matter. Michael O’Malley became laser-focused on getting a conviction despite my family’s objections. The death penalty is meant to display how “tough on crime” prosecutors are while the families of victims languish in the nightmare a capital sentence creates. We know the death penalty is not “tough on crime,” does not deter violent crime, nor is it an appropriate response to violence. Essentially, Cuyahoga County used our family’s darkest moment to gain political prestige and that is one of the many ugly truths about the death penalty.
It’s only been two years since Thomas Knuff was sentenced to death. How many years will my family have to endure a process we desperately didn’t want in the first place? How many times will I have to see Knuff’s mugshot on the news as yet another costly (yet very necessary) appeal happens? How much money will Ohioans have to spend on a racist and arbitrary system that doesn’t work while families of victims endure for decades without access to grief counseling and other resources? The death penalty only offers the false promise of closure for the families like mine. My family and I can never be allowed to heal and seek peace as long as Knuff’s sentence is hanging over our heads. How can this be justice for the families of victims?
The good news is that Ohio can stop hurting the families of victims this year. Currently there are two bipartisan-supported bills in the Ohio legislature, SB 103 and HB 183, that would abolish Ohio’s death penalty and finally stop reopening the wounds of victim family members once and for all. Attorney General Yost offers two options, but I’ll narrow it down even further: End the death penalty — quickly.