Thomas Lucente: Ohio commits another state-sanctioned murder

By Thomas J. Lucente Jr. -


See past columns by Thomas J. Lucente Jr. at

I killed a man last week.

So did you.

At 10:43 a.m. Wednesday at the state penitentiary near Lucasville, Ronald Phillips, 43, was pronounced dead after an agent of the state injected him with a fatal drug cocktail containing the sedative midazolam, the paralytic drug rocuronium bromide, and the heart-stopping drug potassium chloride.

The state did this in your name and paid for it with money it took from you.

The rationale for this state-sanctioned murder is that when Phillips was a teenager he beat his girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter to death.

It was certainly a brutal and heinous crime and I shed no tears for Phillip’s death. However, I do weep because every time we murder someone in the name of “justice” a little bit dies in each of us.

Most civilized nations have abolished this abhorrent practice. Of the 195 recognized nations on Earth, only 58 still kill people as a form of judicial punishment, with the United States being the most developed country that still executes people.

Only three other industrialized nations retain capital punishment: Japan, Singapore and Taiwan. Even the Russians have not executed anyone in nearly two decades.

When it comes to capital punishment, we are in the same group with Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Iran.

Still, executions in the United States have been on the decline. There were only 20 last year and, with Phillips’ death, 15 so far this year. There were 98 in 1999 and 52 in 2009.

Nearly half the states have either banned executions or have a moratorium in place. In practice, however, the death penalty is only used in a few states: 30 states have not had an execution in more than a decade and 35 states haven’t had an execution in the last five years.

The death penalty in the United States is carried out by only 2 percent of the nation’s counties. According to a report from the Death Penalty Information Center, 85 percent of U.S. counties have not had a single case resulting in an execution in 45 years.

The death penalty is on the way out in this country, yet Ohio seems to be ramping up the killing machine and is clearly on the wrong side of history.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, “Ohio has executed 53 prisoners since the turn of the century — the most of any northern state and more than the combined total of every other northern state east of the Mississippi. Ohio ranked with Texas and Oklahoma as the only states to have executed at least one prisoner each year from 2001 to 2014.”

Ohio has three more scheduled this year and 26 scheduled through 2020. There are 138 people on Ohio’s death row.

Aside from the pure barbarity of state-sanctioned murder, executions make little sense.

The death penalty has no deterrence value, at least not as it is practiced in the United States. We conduct our state-sanctioned murders behind closed doors and we try to do it with as little pain as possible.

And we take our time doing it.

Ronald Phillips was a teenager when he killed that little girl. He was 43 years old when we killed him Wednesday, 24 years later.

Nor does it make fiscal sense.

It costs the state significantly more money to execute someone than to keep them locked up for the rest of their lives.

States waste hundreds of millions of dollars on the death penalty with no discernible result. Imagine how that money could better be used in actually reducing crime, such as hiring more police officers, increasing community policing, more programs to help drug addicts.

If we stopped wasting so much money killing a few people, we might actually be able to end the opioid crisis plaguing this nation.

Finally, there is the risk we will, if we haven’t already, execute an innocent person. Since 1973, 159 people have been exonerated from death row. That is 159 innocent people sentenced to death. Some of them spent decades on death row before being exonerated. There have been three exonerations this year alone.

It’s time for Ohio and the United States to leave the 12th century behind and put an end to the wasteful behavior — in blood and treasure — of killing people and put that money toward actually solving problems.

By Thomas J. Lucente Jr.


See past columns by Thomas J. Lucente Jr. at

Thomas J. Lucente Jr. is an attorney and night editor of The Lima News. Reach him by telephone at 567-242-0398, by email at, or on Twitter @ThomasLucente.

Thomas J. Lucente Jr. is an attorney and night editor of The Lima News. Reach him by telephone at 567-242-0398, by email at, or on Twitter @ThomasLucente.

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