Ohio Senators approved a bill Wednesday that would prohibit a convicted murderer from being sentenced to death if they suffered from a serious mental illness at the time of the killing.
The near-unanimous, bipartisan vote marks the next step in a years-long legislative effort to exempt those with certain mental illnesses from death row.
The Ohio Senate vote was 27-3. The bill heads back to the Ohio House of Representatives, which passed the proposed law in 2019 but must also approve of a slight change made by the Senate.
A person convicted of aggravated murder can be spared from the death penalty if they are diagnosed with either schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar and delusional disorder. The diagnosis would have to show they suffered from one of these mental illnesses when the killing occurred.
Sen. John Eklund, R-Munson Twp., a cosponsor of the bill, said the proposed bill seeks to make Ohio’s death penalty be administered in “the most fair and judicious manner possible.”
The bill does not mean a convicted killer would be spared punishment, said Sen. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood. Instead, the system would provide “accurate culpability” by sentencing a person under these circumstances to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The bill allows someone previously sentenced to death to be resentenced if a mental illness diagnosis can be proved.
The Senate’s version includes an amendment regarding the mental illness evaluations. If the court orders an evaluation but a person refuses to undergo one, they would be ineligible for this sentencing relief.
If the House agrees to that change, the bill would head to Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk.
Attorney General Dave Yost and the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association testified against the bill last year.