Time to end death penalty in Ohio

First Posted: 2/12/2015

While the death penalty might make sense in theory, it simply makes no sense in reality. It has little or no deterrence value, is astronomically expensive, is unequally and unfairly implemented, and the risk for a mistake is too high given the number of exonerations that take place every year.

That’s why it was welcome news when the state of Ohio announced that 2015 would be the first year in which it has not executed someone since 2000.

Ronald R. Phillips, who was scheduled to be killed by the state last week, is alive and well today. In fact, all the executions scheduled for this year have been moved to next year. The next scheduled execution is that of Phillips, which is set for Jan. 21. A total of 11 executions are scheduled for next year, including that of a Lima man, Cleveland R. Jackson, of the 2002 Eureka Street killings. Jackson, whose execution was to take place later this year, will be executed July 20, 2016.

These postponements were required because the state of Ohio, after several botched executions, is again changing what drugs it uses to kill people.

Ohio executions have been on hold since Dennis McGuire took 25 minutes to die from a controversial two-drug cocktail of midazolam and hydromorphone in January 2014. That moratorium, put in place by a federal judge, expired last month.

Arizona used the same drug combination during an execution in July. Joseph R. Wood took nearly two hours to die and required 15 doses of each of the two drugs.

Oklahoma also botched an execution in May using Midazolam.

Going forward, Ohio is going to use sodium thiopental and pentobarbital. However, a drug shortage, the reason the state switched in the first place, will require some time before the state can obtain enough of the drug to use.

However, a better option would be for Ohio to abandon the practice altogether as many states have already. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have abolished the death penalty. Additionally, seven states, the military and the federal government have not held an execution in more than a decade. Another six states haven’t executed anyone in more than five years.

The states with the lowest murder rates are states without the death penalty. That would not be the case if there were truly a deterrent value to capital punishment.

From a fiscal standpoint, abolishing the death penalty would save the taxpayers a tremendous amount of money. It is much cheaper to house a defendant for life without parole than it is to seek the death penalty.

Judge Michael P. Donnelly, of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court and a member of Ohio’s Death Penalty Task Force, which issued its report last year on how the state’s death-penalty law is applied, said the cost of capital trials prevents many counties from seeking the death penalty. A typical capital case, from beginning to end, costs more than $1 million when appeals are factored in.

“With 88 different prosecutors who have complete discretion on whether to pursue it or not, and you have to draw the inference that, in some counties, it’s not pursued because it’s just not economically feasible,” he said. “There’s no way you can look at the way [the death penalty is] applied in Ohio and draw the conclusion that it’s fair, or that it’s accomplishing what it purports to do — and that is, deliver the most severe punishment to the worst of the worst. It’s just not taking place.”

But the best reason to end state-sanctioned murder is the high risk of mistake.

In November, three Ohio men who were sentenced to death 39 years ago, were exonerated and set free. They lost 39 years of their lives, a tremendous injustice. Had the sentences been carried out, they would not be alive to walk out of prison and live their remaining lives. The large number of exonerations in the United States — at least 1,547 since 1989, 10 in Ohio last year — makes one wonder how many innocent people have been executed.

Regardless of how one feels theoretically about the death penalty, justice demands we put an end to the practice.