With one man’s execution in limbo, victims’ families divided about death penalty in Ohio

By: - July 18, 2023 4:50 am

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.

As one man’s capital punishment was postponed, victims’ loved ones are split on keeping the death penalty.

Gov. Mike DeWine postponed another state execution Thursday. Keith Lamar was sentenced to death for his role in killing five inmates during a riot at the Lucasville Prison in the 1990s. But capital punishments in the state have been on hold for five years because of trouble getting the drugs need for lethal injections.

Now, lawmakers are continuing to push for the repeal of the death penalty.

Suzanne Taylor and her two daughters were brutally murdered in North Royalton in 2017. The man who killed them, George Brinkman, sits on death row — something Taylor’s lifelong friend Rhonda Whitelock waits for every day.

“This man gets to sit and get his medicine for his diabetes, gets food every day and gets to go outside,” Whitelock said. “And my friend is gone.”

Justice for her is the execution of the killer.

“You can’t even imagine what the aftermath of somebody doing something like this,” she added.

But some victims’ family members don’t feel that way. Jonathan Mann’s father John was killed a month earlier in Parma. Thomas Knuff also got the death penalty, but this isn’t something Mann wants.

“When it comes to my family and myself, I want this to be over, and it’s not over,” Mann said.

He is now an advocate against the death penalty, working with Ohioans to Stop Executions (OTSE), saying the punishment draws out the legal process for victims’ families and forces them to deal with appeals for years.

It also has a concerning error rate, Mann added. There have been 11 death row exonerees. Fifty-six people in Ohio have been executed by the state in the past 40 years, meaning for every five executions that have taken place, one person has been exonerated.

It also disproportionately impacts people of color. Capital defendants charged with killing a white victim in Ohio are twice as likely to receive a death sentence as those charged with killing a Black person, OTSE found.

Plus, it is incredibly expensive for the state. Ohio hasn’t executed anyone since 2018, but it costs us hundreds of millions, according to data from the nonpartisan Ohio Legislative Service Commission.

Mann says that money could be going toward helping families.

“We’re talking about trauma centers, we’re talking about helping people with funerary expenses, with counseling,” he said. “There is a litany of services that could help all victims of crime.”

This is why he is supportive of Senate Bill 101, which would abolish the death penalty. Read more about the bill here.

But for Whitelock, she wants to have the choice. She also wants it to happen faster. Executions keep getting pushed back because pharmaceutical companies refuse to provide the drugs to be used for lethal injection.

“Somebody like him shouldn’t be able to breathe the air that we breathe,” she said.

When asked if it furthers her trauma every day that goes by without Brinkman being executed, Whitelock sighed.

“You have no idea,” she said. “The nightmares might end if he’s gone.”

The bill to repeal the death penalty has more support now than any other year it has been introduced.


This 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.

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Morgan Trau
Morgan Trau

Morgan Trau is a political reporter and multimedia journalist based out of the WEWS Columbus Bureau. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Trau has previously worked as an investigative, political and fact-checking reporter in Grand Rapids, Mich. at WZZM-TV; a reporter and MMJ in Spokane, Wash. at KREM-TV and has interned at 60 Minutes and worked for CBS Interactive and PBS NewsHour.