Second Ohio Prisoner Taken Off Death Row Under New Serious Mental Illness Law

A second Ohio death-row prisoner has been resentenced to life without parole under a new state law that makes individuals who were seriously mentally ill at the time of their crime ineligible for the death penalty.

Donald Ketterer, who was sentenced to death in Butler County in February 2004, was transferred from death row in Ohio’s Chillicothe Correctional Institution on October 6, 2021 to a state prison in Warren County after a Butler County Court of Common Pleas ruling in September that vacated his death sentence. “Ketterer suffered from bipolar disorder on Feb. 24, 2003, when Lawrence Sanders was murdered,” visiting Judge James Brogan wrote, “and because of his bipolar disorder, lacked substantial capacity to conform his conduct to the requirements of law.”

The Ohio legislature voted in December 2020 to exempt individuals whose serious mental illness “significantly impaired the person’s capacity to exercise rational judgment” at the time of the murder in either "conforming [his] conduct to the requirements of law" or "appreciating the nature, consequences, or wrongfulness of [his] conduct." The proposal designated certain illness as serious mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, and delusional disorder.

Governor Mike DeWine signed the bill on January 9, 2021 and it became law on April 12. Ketterer’s lawyers then filed a post-conviction motion in July seeking to overturn his death sentence, detailing his long history of mental illness. On June 23, 2021, David Braden became the first Ohio death-row prisoner to have his death sentence vacated because of serious mental illness.

Sources

Andrew Welsh-Huggins, EXPLAINER: How men­tal ill­ness law is chang­ing Ohio death row, Associated Press, October 21, 2021; Lauren Pack, Death sen­tence over­turned for inmate who killed elder­ly Hamilton man in 2003, Journal-News, October 22, 2021; Danielle Haynes, Ohio man’s death sen­tence over­turned under new men­tal ill­ness law, UPI, October 232021.