A proposed death penalty repeal bill in the Ohio legislature is drawing attention to the state’s five-year pause on executions, and leading state officials from both parties to question whether the death penalty system is working. Ohio Attorney General David Yost (pictured) summed up the situation by saying, “This system satisfies nobody. Those who oppose the death penalty want it abolished altogether, not ticking away like a time bomb that might or might not explode. Those who support the death penalty want it to be fair, timely and effective. Neither side is getting what it wants while the state goes on pointlessly burning through enormous taxpayer resources.” 

Governor Mike DeWine, who helped write Ohio’s death penalty law during his time as a state senator, has issued more than 40 reprieves over the last five years. His spokesperson said that the governor’s stance hasn’t changed since a December 2020 interview in which he said he has become “much more skeptical about whether it meets the criteria that was certainly in my mind when I voted for the death penalty, and that was that it in fact did deter crime, which to me is the moral justification.

Representative Adam Miller, the Democratic sponsor of the repeal bill in the House, expressed sentiments in line with Gov. DeWine and AG Yost, saying in a September press conference that, “The death penalty is a failed public policy and must be abolished.” The bill’s Republican co-sponsor, Representative Jean Schmidt, said she opposes the death penalty on pro-life grounds.

Ohio’s pause on executions is part of a national trend away from the death penalty. In 2023, only five states carried out executions. The state has not imposed a death sentence since 2020, as death sentences nationally have declined significantly since their peak in mid-1990s. Franklin County Prosecutor Gary Tyack said, “I haven’t seen a case where I think a jury would return a death verdict in recent history, and because that’s the situation, I don’t see the need of taking on the huge cost involved in a death case.”


Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Justice For None: What the Future Holds for Ohio’s Death Penalty, Columbus Monthly, December 52023