Ohioans to Stop Executions releases its new report on the status of Ohio’s death penalty this week. The report, A Relic of the Past: Ohio’s Dwindling Death Penalty, details a continuing decline in executions and new death sentences in Ohio while highlighting the disparities between counties which prosecute death cases. The report also catalogs the reluctance of Ohio legislators to consider recommendations made by a Supreme Court Task Force to make Ohio’s death penalty more fair and accurate.
“The suggestion by Ohio prosecutors to use the gas chamber to carry out executions is an attempt to distract Ohioans from the real issues,” said Kevin Werner, executive director of the statewide anti-death penalty group. “They want to resume executions without taking steps to reform the system in order to make it as fair and accurate as it can be. They don’t want Ohioans to take a close look at the issue, because anyone who does look will see that the death penalty fails us as a public policy for our state.”
Additional comments attributable to OTSE or Kevin Werner:
County Prosecutors: “Justice in Ohio should not hinge on the whims of a single elected official.”
New death sentences were down yet again, with only one new death sentence in Ohio in 2015. This compares to three new death sentences in 2014, four in 2013, and five in 2012.
There was a slight rise in capital indictments in Ohio in 2015, but in some surprising places. OTSE wonders if some of that is push back from prosecutors in response to glaring geographic disparities in the use of the death penalty, or the threat thereof. Now smaller counties are seeking the death penalty more, while bigger counties are seeking it less.
Forty years after the Furman decision, the same problems of arbitrariness continue. What matters more than anything else in deciding when Ohio is going to execute a convicted killer is the personal predilections of a county prosecutor. Justice in Ohio should not hinge on the whims of a single elected official.
Just look at Cuyahoga County. Capital indictments now rarely happen, but they have no problem securing convictions. Did the murder rate plunge? No. The prosecutor changed.
On the other hand, look at Tremble County, which has one of the lowest homicide rates of Ohio counties which sentence people to death. Under Prosecutor Dennis Watkins, Trumble county leads the state with the highest death sentence to homicide rate. Why? The whims of the prosecutor, who makes it a point to highlight his death penalty track record in his professional bio.
Task Force Recommendations: “They don’t want to fix it, so it’s time to end it.”
With only one new death sentence and no executions in 2015, the downward trend continues. Ohio is hardly using its expensive and antiquated system of capital punishment. There has been no significant movement to adopt Supreme Court Death Penalty Task Force recommendations to make Ohio’s death penalty more fair and accurate. They don’t even want to talk about what is clearly a relic of the past. We have 36 years of data. The reasonable conclusion is to stop trying to fix an unfixable system. It is time to end the death penalty in Ohio.
Exonerations: “It’s worse than we thought”
We’ve been looking at an incomplete picture of the problem with wrongful convictions. When we look at every case where they tried to get a death sentence, we see more and more exonerations. At least 13 totally innocent Ohioans have been prosecuted under the death penalty law. Thankfully they were not wrongfully executed, just wrongfully convicted.
Two things are certain: When the wrong person is sent to prison, the real killer is left free to kill again. Ohio taxpayers are paying millions of dollars in compensation for the mistakes of police and prosecutors. We are seeing this with the 2014 exonerations of Wiley Bridgeman, Kwame Ajamu and Ricky Jackson.