Abandon the Death Penalty in Ohio

It is time to abandon the death penalty in Ohio!! Most objective observers agree that it has no deterrent value against violent crimes. It costs taxpayers much more to execute than to incarcerate for life. And it is certainly inhuman for the rare but real minority of death row inmates actually innocent of the crime for which they are sentenced to die. We should substitute life in prison at hard labor without parole as a more rational alternative to the death penalty.

Right now Ohio has a backlog of criminals it wants to execute but lacks the means! The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) is having serious trouble acquiring the drugs it needs to execute death row inmates. The agency is trying to find an injectable concoction that will bring death quickly, not be painful to the person being executed, and is acceptable to the federal judiciary. But companies worldwide don’t want any part of manufacturing and selling drugs intended for use in executions.

There is already broad public agreement that our criminal justice system is seriously racially biased. For that and other reasons we simply can’t guarantee with certainty that every death row inmate is guilty of the crime for which he/she was sentenced. Since the ‘70s there are documented cases of at least 144 people on death row (9 from Ohio, at least 6 of them black) who were exonerated of the crime for which they received the death penalty. Further, a Michigan State University College of Law study calculates that more than 4% of those currently sentenced to death likely were wrongfully convicted.

Financially, execution is 2 to 4 time more costly to taxpayers than incarcerating a person for life. ODRC has also demonstrated itself to be inept in carrying out the death penalty. Its last execution was badly botched and it took the prisoner 26 minutes to die!! That seems to me to qualify as cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of both the Ohio and Federal Constitutions. With the Michigan State analysis in mind incarceration for life would always be a better choice. It would eliminate the chance of executing an innocent person, and it allows for ending criminal punishment if conviction is later found to be in error.

Then there is the issue of relevance. Few people who commit even the most violent crimes are actually sentenced to die. Whether the death penalty is sought in a case in Ohio is almost entirely a function of the pre-disposition of the local prosecutor. It is also not in any way correlated to the incidence of violent crime in the particular jurisdiction where that prosecutor practices.

Of those who are sentenced to death most wait more than a decade to have their sentence carried out. The person Ohio wants to execute in January 2017 committed his heinous crime in 1993, 23 years ago. Does anyone really think that facing a very small possibility of a death penalty in some distant future is a deterrent to a violent criminal mind in the here and now. The experts say it is not! If that is true, then what is the object of having the death penalty? Revenge?? Is vengeance a legitimate goal of a civilized society?

Finally, the likelihood that a death sentence is wrongfully imposed in 4% of capital cases as Michigan State says suggests that at least statistically one of the 28 people on death row in Ohio is likely to be innocent. Can we say with absolute certainty that all those individuals are guilty as convicted? Should we be OK with executing one innocent person just to be sure we exact the ultimate penalty on the other 27, who may really be bad guys?

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