Ohio

Ohio

NEW VOICES: Former Ohio Attorney General Now Opposes Death Penalty and Calls for Reform

Jim Petro served as Ohio's Attorney General and presided over 18 executions. However, he abandoned his support for capital punishment after seeing the risks of wrongful executions: "Our justice system is based on the decision-making of human beings, and human beings are fallible. We make mistakes and our judgments are influenced by biases and imperfect motivations. Implementing the death penalty makes our errors permanent and impossible to remedy." Recently, he called on the Ohio legislature to adopt the reforms recommended by a Task Force appointed by the state Supreme Court, saying, "Without action the death penalty system will continue to be an expensive, unfairly applied, and risk-filled process that has no place in today's criminal justice system." He asked the legislature to require the recording of interrogations, certification of crime labs, and guidelines for prosecutors seeking the death penalty.

Ohio Had Warnings About Lethal Drugs; State's Expert Witness Withdraws

After Ohio's two-hour attempted execution of Rommel Broom (pictured) in 2009, it explored alternative methods, including an intramuscular injection of midazolam and hydromorphone. Gregory Trout, an attorney with the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction expressed concerns to Dr. Mark Dershwitz, the state's expert witness on lethal injections, about whether these drugs would result in “gasping for air in a hyperventilating fashion, with eyes still open,” and whether it “would create the appearance, at least, of suffering, which would upset witnesses and inspire litigation.” Dr. Dershwitz said such reactions were unlikely. However, Dr. Mark Heath, an anesthesiologist at Columbia University, warned the drugs could create “a terrible, arduous, tormenting execution that is also an ugly visual and shameful spectacle.” Ultimately, the drugs were not used intramuscularly but rather injected into the veins of Dennis McGuire in January 2014, resulting in a prolonged execution in which the prisoner struggled and clenched his fists for an extended period. The same drugs were used in the recent two-hour execution of Joseph Wood in Arizona. Dr. Dershwitz, who had served as an expert on lethal injection for 22 states and the federal government, recently withdrew from further involvement as an expert because Ohio had mischaracterized him as a "consultant."

Anesthesiologist Calls Ohio Execution "Inhumane"

The lethal injection of Dennis McGuire in Ohio in January "was not a humane execution," according to Dr. Kent Dively (pictured), a San Diego anesthesiologist who examined records related to the execution, which took nearly 30 minutes to complete. Dr. Dively made the statement in an affidavit related to a civil rights suit filed by McGuire's children. McGuire was the first person in the country to be executed using a combination of midazolam and hydromorphone. Dively stated, "Neither of these drugs combined in the doses used can be depended upon to produce a rapid loss of consciousness and death." He continued, "Mr. McGuire was noted to be straining against his restraints, struggling to breathe, and making hand gestures. More likely than not these represent conscious voluntary actions by Mr. McGuire. They exemplify true pain and suffering in the several minutes before he lost consciousness." He also noted that Ohio's execution protocol states that all executions will be carried out in a "professional, humane, sensitive, and dignified manner," and said the state failed to meet its own standards: "These drugs do not fulfill the criteria set forth by the state of Ohio. They do not provide for an execution in a professional, humane, sensitive, and dignified manner. Allowing the inmate to suffer for a prolonged period struggling to get free and gasping for air before death certainly is not dignified nor humane." He recommended the state "reconsider the drug combinations they are currently employing. Otherwise other inmates in the future could suffer egregious inhumane deaths like Mr. McGuire."

Federal Judge Bars Ohio Executions for 2014

On August 8 U.S. District Judge Gregory L. Frost ruled that no executions may be carried out in Ohio until at least January 2015. The court's ruling lengthened a previous moratorium imposed because of problems with the state's lethal injection protocol. Judge Frost said he extended the stay of executions “in light of the continuing need for discovery and necessary preparations related to the adoption and implementation of the new execution protocol." Three executions, which had been scheduled for the remainder of 2014, and one in early 2015, have been stayed. In January, the execution of Dennis McGuire in Ohio took over 25 minutes, with witnesses reporting that McGuire gasped, choked, and appeared to struggle against his restraints. The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction announced in April that it would use larger doses of the same lethal injection drugs in future executions, but Judge Frost stayed all executions until at least mid-August. The state's proposed dosage was the same as that used in the recent botched execution of Joseph Wood in Arizona.

Ohio Supreme Court to Hear Romell Broom Appeal

The Ohio Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal from Romell Broom (pictured), whose execution was halted in 2009 after correctional officers spent two hours trying to insert an IV for a lethal injection. Broom was pricked 18 times during the attempted execution. The court will decide whether further attempts to execute Broom would violate double-jeopardy rules or the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. "Romell Broom has a constitutional right not to be subjected to more than one execution attempt under the circumstances present in this case including the fact that significant psychological and physical pain have already been inflicted on him in a first attempt," his lawyers said. A federal judge recently suspended all executions in Ohio until at least August 15, 2014, in order to allow a review of the state's new execution protocol. The protocol was changed after the botched execution of Dennis McGuire in January. 

Ohio Residents Support Life Sentences Over Death Penalty

A recent poll by Quinnipiac University found that Ohioans support life sentences over the death penalty for people convicted of murder. A total of 49% of respondents chose sentences of life without parole (40%) or life with parole (9%), compared to just 43% who chose the death penalty. The survey also showed a 4-point drop in death penalty support in just the last three months. In February, 47% of respondents said they preferred the death penalty. Death penalty support was much lower among blacks than among whites, with only 22% of blacks saying they preferred the death penalty over the life-sentence options, compared to 46% of whites. Among various age groups, younger people (age 18-29), showed the lowest support for the death penalty (33%) when compared to life sentences.

CLEMENCY: Ohio Governor Commutes Death Sentence, Citing 'Troubling Irregularities'

On April 30 Ohio Governor John Kasich commuted the death sentence of Arthur Tyler to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The decision followed a recommendation for clemency from Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty. Following a hearing on the case, the Ohio Parole Board recommended commutation of Tyler's sentence to life with parole: six of the eleven members recommended immediate parole eligibility for Tyler, and the remaining five favored a sentence of 33 years to life, which would have made Tyler parole eligible in two years. In his commutation announcement, Kasich said, “The questions that continue around this case are fundamental and the irregularities in the court proceedings are troubling." Tyler's co-defendant, Leroy Head, confessed to the crime but testified that Tyler was the triggerman, securing himself a lesser sentence. Head was released from prison in 2008. McGinty cited Head's "evolving statements" as a "cause for concern" in asking for clemency for Tyler, and the Parole Board agreed, adding that a sentence with parole eligibility, "would also make Tyler’s sentence more proportionate to the sentence imposed upon Head."

NEW VOICES: Ohio Prosecutor Calls for Clemency for Death Row Inmate

In a petition to the Ohio Parole Board, Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty (pictured) requested the death sentence of Arthur Tyler be reduced to life in prison without parole. McGinty said, "At the time of Tyler's trial, Ohio law did not allow for the possibility of a sentence of life without parole for an aggravated murder conviction....In light of the limited sentencing options, the absence of the option of a sentence of life without the possibility of parole in this case may have led to the imposition of the death sentence." The petition also said that "evolving statements" from Tyler's co-defendant, Leroy Head, "are cause for concern" and "may undermine public confidence in Tyler's sentence." Tyler has consistently maintained his innocence, and is asking the Parole Board for a commutation to a sentence of life with the possibility of parole. Head was released from prison in 2008.

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