Ohio gets closer to abolishing death penalty
A view of the death chamber from the witness room at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility shows an electric chair and gurney. Photo by Mike Simons/Getty Images.
The following article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.
Ohio hasn’t executed a prisoner in about four years, but capital punishment continues to be a topic of debate at the Statehouse. The state moved one step closer to abolishing this centuries old form of punishment last Thursday.
Most everyone agrees that murderers should face consequences for their crimes, but not everyone agrees what those consequences look like. House Bill 183 would end the death penalty. People on both sides of the issue packed the fifth state House Criminal Justice Committee hearing for the bipartisan legislation.
“This isn’t, you know, a liberal or conservative issue,” Jonathan Mann said. “This is a human issue.”
Mann used to support the death penalty, but after his dad’s murderer got sentenced to death, he said he feels a weight on his shoulders.
“People need to understand, as co-victims, what we go through in the judicial system is like going through a meat grinder,” he added. “It gets drawn out for decades with lots of court hearings, lots of appearances that families need to make and it’s trauma just recycled over and over again.”
He is now the vice-chair of Ohioans To Stop Executions (OTSE), a single-issue death penalty repeal organization. Mann and numerous other supporters, including Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati’s Laura Strietmann and Catholic Conference of Ohio’s Jerry Freewalt, all list the same main reasons for opposing the death penalty. Like Mann originally mentioned, it draws out the legal process.
It disproportionately impacts people of color, as the ACLU of Ohio and OTSE found that although people of color make up 15% of Ohio’s population, they make up of 56% of the state’s death row. Seventy-five percent of Ohio executions involve a white victim.
It is incredibly expensive for the state. The same study by ACLU found Death penalty trials cost taxpayers as much as $16 million per case. It would be much cheaper to replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole, it showed. The death penalty in Ohio is ten times more expensive than a non-death case, according to OTSE.
People shouldn’t be taking an “eye for an eye,” according to the sponsor of the bill, Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland). Strietmann and Freewalt all list God as being the only entity allowed to take away life.
And perhaps most jarring, for every six people the state of Ohio has executed, one person has been found innocent, according to the ACLU study. Ohio is also home to 11 death row exonerees who collectively spent 216 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, ACLU reported.
But prosecutors say that lethal injections are only used in very specific circumstances, adding some families feel they would get more justice knowing the person who killed their loved one is dead.
“We think it is reserved for the worst of the worst offenders in Ohio,” Ohio Prosecuting Attorney Association Executive Director Lou Tobin said. “The way it’s used today is mostly multiple murderers, child murderers, people who are murdering witnesses to try and avoid the justice system and the consequence of the justice system”
Tobin and other prosecutors believe ending capital punishment would be letting murderers of the hook. All murders are horrendous, he said, but for people like Ariel Castro, it would be necessary.
Castro held Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight captive for a decade until a neighbor, Charles Ramsey, heard Berry calling for help, pulled the door open enough for her to escape and called 911.
The executions should be used sparingly, but lawmakers shouldn’t take away the option entirely, Tobin said. Something both sides can agree on is the justice system needs to move more quickly.
“I think there are ways that we can get rid of the unnecessary delay that causes some of the complaints of the proponents,” he said.
“There’s nothing more agonizing that I have to deal with,” Mann said. “This is like opening up a wound and re-cauterizing it every day.”
There are currently 131 people on death row in the state, according to the Ohio Departments of Rehabilitation and Correction. Ohio’s last execution was in July of 2018. At the end of 2020, Gov. Mike DeWine put a hold on all capital punishment due to not having enough lethal injection drugs to carry out the execution.
Due to redistricting taking center stage right now, the legislators believe this bill won’t make it to the floor until May.
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