Ohio death penalty debate continues as executions start up again


april 7, 2012 source : http://www.the-daily-record.com

COLUMBUS — Attorney General Mike DeWine has released the 2011 Capital Crimes Annual Report, the yearly snapshot of Ohio’s Death Row, listing facts and figures about inmates who have been executed and those facing death.

It’s a timely survey, given the continuing debate over Ohio’s administration of the death penalty.

According to the report, 313 death sentences have been issued in Ohio since 1981, a number that includes multiple sentences for some individual inmates.

Of those, the state has executed 46. The first was Wilford Berry on Feb. 19, 1999. The most recent was Reginald Brooks on Nov. 15 of last year.

The average age of executed inmates was 45. Nineteen were black, 27 white, all men, serving an average of more than 16 years on Death Row.

They killed 76 people, including 17 children.

The highest number of executions in recent years was in 2010, when eight inmates received lethal injections. Five more were put to death last year.

Sixteen inmates had their death sentences commuted. Gov. John Kasich has granted clemency twice, for Shawn Hawkins (convicted of a drug-related double murder in Hamilton County in 1989) and Joseph Murphy (convicted of killing an elderly Marion woman in 1987).

Former Govs. Ted Strickland, Bob Taft and Dick Celeste commuted the sentences of five, one and eight Death Row inmates, respectively.

Twenty-two inmates died in prison either of natural causes or suicide before their death sentences being carried out.

Eight were deemed mentally retarded and, thus, not eligible for death sentences. Eight are pending resentencing. And 71 had their sentences blocked by judicial action.

That leaves 154 people on Ohio’s Death Row, most of whom have been relocated from the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown to the Chillicothe Correctional institution, located about 50 miles south of Columbus.

Four of those received death sentences last year. A dozen have dates set for their lethal injections.

Mark Wiles, convicted in the brutal knifing death of a Portage County teen, is next in line on April 18, pending any additional legal challenges.

Green light

The report was released a few days before a federal court ruled Ohio could move ahead with Wiles’ execution.

But Judge Gregory Frost didn’t mince words concerning Ohio and the death penalty.

In a decision last week, he declined a request from legal counsel for Wiles to stop his scheduled execution, opening the door for the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to restart lethal injections after several months of delays.

But Frost made it clear prison officials better get it right this time.

He’s understandably skeptical, writing in his decision, “Ohio has time and again failed to follow through on its own execution protocol. The protocol is constitutional as written and executions are lawful, but the problem has been Ohio’s repeated inability to do what it says it will do.”

He added later, “They must recognize the consequences that will ensue if they fail to succeed in conducting a constitutionally sound execution of Wiles. They must recognize what performing a constitutionally sound Wiles execution and then returning to the flawed practices of the past would mean.”

Death penalty-free

Two Democratic state lawmakers continue to call for an end to the death penalty in Ohio, “raising fervent opposition” to Judge Frost’s decision last week,

Reps. Nickie Antonio, from the Cleveland area, and Ted Celeste, from the Columbus area, are sponsors of legislation that would ban the death penalty, replacing it with life in prison without parole.

Last week, they pointed to Connecticut, the 17th state in the country that has ceased putting inmates to death.

“Moving forward with executions is a step backward for Ohio,” Antonio said in a released statement. “Now is the time for Ohio to join policy leaders throughout the country and move to life without parole.”

Celeste added, “Connecticut will soon be the fifth state in the past five years to abolish this barbaric, outdated form of punishment. Public opinion is clearly changing with regard to capital punishment, and I am hopeful that Ohio will soon be able to capitalize on this momentum as well.”

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