As Ohio lawmakers consider executions with nitrogen gas, DeWine keeps postponing execution dates

COLUMBUS, Ohio — While some lawmakers are seeking to revive Ohio’s death penalty through the use of nitrogen gas, Gov. Mike DeWine is continuing the state’s de facto moratorium on executions by rescheduling execution dates well into the future.

DeWine announced Friday that he pushed back the scheduled executions dates for convicted murderers Timothy L. Hoffner and John David Stumpf from later this year until 2027.

The governor has repeatedly issued such reprieves since he first took office in 2019, citing state prison officials’ years-long inability to obtain drugs for lethal injection, the only execution method currently allowed under state law.

But the two reprieves are the first DeWine has issued since Alabama carried out the nation’s first-ever execution using nitrogen gas on Jan. 26. That execution – as well as the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to block it on constitutional grounds – led more than a dozen Ohio House Republicans to introduce legislation early this month that would allow condemned inmates in Ohio to be put to death using nitrogen gas so long as lethal-injection drugs remain unavailable or if an inmate chooses it.

It’s unclear whether the legislation, House Bill 392, will pass the Ohio General Assembly before the current legislative session ends in December, though both Senate President Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican, and House Speaker Jason Stephens, a Lawrence County Republican, have said they are overall supporters of the death penalty.

DeWine, as a Republican state lawmaker in 1981, helped pass the legislation that is now Ohio’s death-penalty statute. But since DeWine was elected governor, he has refused to publicly say whether he still supports capital punishment.

When the governor was asked late last month what he thought about legislation allowing executions via nitrogen gas, he replied by noting that lawmakers have also introduced a bill that would abolish the death penalty in Ohio. (That legislation, Senate Bill 101, has gone nowhere since it was introduced nearly a year ago).

“We have different bills, and my practice is to not really comment on them until something starts to move,” DeWine said.

DeWine rescheduled Hoffner’s execution date from June 18, 2024 until July 14, 2027. Hoffner was one of two men who buried 22-year-old Christopher Hammer alive in a two-foot grave near Toledo in 1993 after they stole his car, tied him up and gagged him.

Stumpf, who had been scheduled to die on Aug. 16, 2024, had his execution date moved back to August 18, 2027. He was convicted in 1984 of fatally shooting Mary Jane Stout during a robbery attempt in Guernsey County.

It’s the third time DeWine has delayed Stumpf’s execution date in the past four years, and the second time he’s postponed Hoffner’s execution date.