Criticism by Government Leaders, Victim’s Son Fuel Growing Doubts About Viability of Ohio’s Death Penalty

With executions on hold due to problems with the lethal-injection protocol, the future of capital punishment in Ohio is uncertain. High-ranking Ohio officials have expressed concerns about the effectiveness and viability of the state’s death penalty, and two recent columns in leading Ohio newspapers have argued that the state should end capital punishment.

In a year-end interview with the Toledo Blade, Governor Mike DeWine intimated that Ohio’s death penalty was both unworkable in practice and a failure as an instrument of public safety. “I have said for many years,” he told The Blade, “that, if you’re talking about protecting the public, whatever you think about the death penalty morally, the death penalty can never come in very high in things that protect the public.”

The state’s death penalty also drew criticism from a victim’s family member. A December 28, 2019 Columbus Dispatch op-ed by Jonathan Mann (pictured), whose father was murdered, said the death-penalty legal process revictimizes family members and takes resources away from services that support victims’ families. “Instead of spending millions on death penalty trials and decades of appeals, we should be investing in tools to reduce, prevent and solve crimes. If we care about victims’ families like mine, we should be prioritizing services that benefit all of us, instead of pouring millions into an arbitrarily applied death penalty,” he wrote.

Mann said he opposed the death penalty for his father’s murder, but Cuyahoga County prosecutors immediately told him that he could expect the killer to receive a death sentence. “My wishes weren’t even pretended to be considered. I was left voiceless in a scenario that affected me deeply; he was my father.”

Also on December 28, a column by Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial board member Thomas Suddes argued that concerns expressed by Republican leaders about the “practicality and cost” of Ohio’s death penalty are reason enough to do away with the punishment. “Of the 56 Death Row inmates … whom Ohio has executed beginning [in] 1999, the average time spent on Death Row was about 17 years and two months,” Suddes wrote. However, he wrote, this lengthy appeal process is necessary to redress the “injustice after injustice” they have uncovered in Ohio capital cases.

Ultimately, Suddes suggests, “[i]n courtroom after courtroom, what an Ohio death sentence may really mean is imprisonment for life—if you can call that a life—without any possibility of liberty.” He concludes: “The question is whether Ohio should admit the reality of its death penalty, or, at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars in legal fees, keep denying the obvious.”

Cuyahoga County imposed more death sentences in 2018-2019 than any other county in the U.S., and is one of the 2% of U.S. counties that collectively account for a majority of the nation’s death-row prisoners. “The reality is that the severity of the crime has little to do with the sentence. Rather it is the location of the crime and that county’s prosecutor that are the driving determinants in sentencing,” Mann wrote. “For my family and me, life without parole would’ve meant a quicker path to healing and closure. For Cuyahoga County, it would’ve translated into millions of dollars saved, a faster trial process and confidence there was no possibility of his case being overturned.”

DeWine announced in February 2019 that “Ohio is not going to execute someone under my watch when a federal judge has found it to be cruel and unusual punishment.” In the Toledo Blade interview, he reiterated his public health concern — which he called his “great fear” — that pharmaceutical companies “will shut us down on [sales of medicines for] our mental health hospitals and our veterans homes” if the state takes drugs intended for medical care and diverts them for use in executions. “As governor I have to be concerned about that,” he said. In August, DeWine said he planned to meet with legislative leaders to discuss a course of action. Weeks later, citing costs and the difficulty in carrying out executions, Householder publicly expressed his growing reservations about the death penalty.

Sources

Jim Provance, Gov. DeWine looks back at 2019’s suc­cess­es and unfin­ished busi­ness’, Toledo Blade, December 30, 2019; Thomas Suddes, Will Ohio’s death penal­ty sur­vive, and should it?, Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 28, 2019; Jonathan Mann, Column: Victim’s son ques­tions the coun­ty lead­ing US in death sen­tences, The Columbus Dispatch, December 282019.