Ohio Death Penalty Task Force Releases Final Report

Word's out, and, as in the words of Cleveland’s Plain Dealer and others, “Ohio’s Supreme Court task force on the death penalty has come out recommending sweeping changes to the state's capital punishment system in its long-awaited final report.

“The task force's 56 recommendations, which state policymakers likely won't act upon in the near future, include creating a panel under the Ohio attorney general that would have to approve death penalty charges before cases proceed, and paying particular attention to racial factors. It also calls for eliminating the death penalty when the defendant suffers from "serious mental illness," as well as in cases of kidnapping, rape, aggravated arson, aggravated robbery, and aggravated burglary; and allowing the death penalty only in cases where the crime is proven by DNA evidence, a filmed confession, or other video footage.”

 Court News Ohio reported Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor indicated she would review the 76-page report and offer her views on the specific recommendations at a later date, saying in part that “Thoughtful Ohioans of good will may disagree on whether we should have the death penalty, but no one can disagree that as long as Ohio does have a death penalty we should have the fairest and most reliable system possible…”

An equally long dissenting report, also released, authored by two county prosecutors and a deputy attorney general, claimed the task force had an agenda to abolish the death penalty outright -- something that wasn't on the table for the panel to consider.

As the Supreme Court’s task force releases its study, the Plain Dealer also had an article on a poll conducted by Quinnipiac University between May 7 and May 12 of 1,174 registered voters finding “Ohio voters favored the death penalty, 69% – 25%  for persons convicted of murder -- but when offered a choice, 43 percent of voters favor the death penalty and 40 percent favor life in prison with no chance of parole, while 9 percent favor life in prison with a chance of parole, a total of 49 percent for the two life options.”

Quinnipiac University is a private, nonsectarian, coeducational university located in Hamden, Connecticut, which conducts public opinion surveys in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Iowa, Colorado and the nation as a public service and for research.

Then we have NBCNews reporting that according to a survey of 800 adults by Hart Research and Public Opinion Strategies for them in that same time frame between May 7-10,  “the botched lethal injection execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma this past April  has not chipped away at  America’s public's support of the death penalty, although two-thirds of voters would back alternatives to the needle, and one in three people say that if lethal injections are no longer viable — because of drug shortages or other problems — executions should be stopped altogether…..But many others are open to more primitive methods of putting prisoners to death: 20 percent for the gas chamber, 18 percent for the electric chair, 12 percent for firing squad and 8 percent for hanging.”

  USAToday and others are also reporting on the U.S. Supreme Court’s blocking the execution of convicted Missouri murderer yesterday evening rather than risk another in what has become a series of botched lethal injections, “a stark reversal from the court's practice of denying last-minute appeals by death row inmates. That could mean a majority of justices are concerned about a shortage of drugs that has forced states to rely on unregulated compounding pharmacies. Some states have refused to say where they get their drugs or specify which drugs are used.”

And in the meantime, there are no less than four bills in the Ohio legislature attending to the issue: HB385 (introduced  Jan. 22) andSB293 (introduced May 13) seek the outright abolishment of the death penalty; SB183 would - To provide that a defendant cannot be executed if the defendant's race was the basis of the decision to seek or impose the death penalty, to permit a defendant to file a motion alleging that the defendant's race was the basis of the decision to seek or impose the death penalty, to permit a defendant to establish that the death penalty was sought or imposed on the basis of race in the defendant's case by showing that race was a significant factor in decisions to seek or impose a sentence of death in the state, the county, or the prosecutor's office at the time that a sentence of death was sought or imposed in the defendant's case…  HB244, on the other hand (introduced last Oct. 10, 2013), would make the statutory authorization and procedure for imposing a sentence of death apply to rape, sexual battery, and unlawful sexual conduct with a minor when the offense is committed by an offender who previously has been convicted of, pleaded guilty to, or been adjudicated a delinquent child for committing any of those offenses or the former offense of felonious sexual penetration….