Major Newspapers in Ohio, Washington Editorialize in Favor of Death Penalty Repeal

Posted on Feb 12, 2020

As state legislatures in Ohio and Washington contemplate the future of their death-penalty statutes, major newspapers in each of the states are advocating legislative repeal.

On February 6, 2020, following a state senate vote to formalize the Washington Supreme Court’s judicial abolition of the state’s death penalty, The Seattle Times editorial board urged the state House of Representatives to complete the job. “The state Supreme Court has struck down Washington’s death-penalty law, but it remains a stain on the state’s statute books,” the Times wrote. “Let this Legislative session be the one a full repeal passes both chambers to fully erase capital punishment from state law.”

On February 9, citing the “practical drawbacks and lack of practical benefits” of capital punishment, The Columbus Dispatch for the first time in its history called upon Ohio legislators to end the death penalty in the Buckeye State. Given Ohio’s lethal-injection dilemma and the myriad policy concerns, the Dispatch concluded, “The only reason left for execution is vengeance, which is not an element of justice or the proper business of the state. It’s time for Ohio to do away with the death penalty.”

While both states are in the midst of public reckonings with the death penalty, each has had unique challenges with the administration of its capital punishment law. The two editorials shared some common ground, criticizing the biased and arbitrary application of the policy in each of their states. The editorial boards also addressed some of the unique capital punishment issues facing their states.

In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine (pictured) and House Speaker Larry Householder have both expressed concerns about the viability and enforceability of the state’s death-penalty law and have questioned the continued use of capital punishment. The Dispatch editorial catalogued a series of issues, such as cost, lack of deterrent effect, possibility of wrongful conviction, and the difficulties the state has had in obtaining lethal injection drugs, that it believes make the death penalty a failed policy. The editorial board also criticized state officials for inaction “on most of the recommendations of the Joint Task Force to Review the Administration of Ohio’s Death Penalty, which published a report in 2014 aimed at making death-penalty prosecutions fairer.”

The editors also addressed the lethal-injection problems that have led Governor DeWine to grant eleven reprieves since taking office and prompted Householder’s growing doubts about capital punishment. After a federal judge issued an opinion comparing the state’s lethal-injection protocol to waterboarding and chemical fire, DeWine announced he would halt executions until a new execution protocol was developed. He later announced that the state could not obtain lethal-injection drugs without endangering its ability to purchase medically necessary pharmaceuticals for other state agencies. With no practical justification remaining for capital punishment, the Dispatch editors called for its abolition.

In October 2018, the Washington Supreme Court unanimously struck down the state’s death-penalty law, declaring that the punishment had been “imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.” Echoing the state court’s opinion, the Times editors wrote that the “wildly uneven usage of the penalty” had produced stark racial and geographic disparities. The editors quoted King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, who said the death penalty “is simply not worth the time, the money, nor the delay in the delivery of justice.”

A measure to remove the death penalty from state law has passed the Washington Senate each of the last three sessions, but it stalled in the House in 2018 and 2019. In response to the Washington Senate’s recent passage of SB 5339, which would formalize the 2018 judicial abolition of capital punishment, the Times urged newly elected House Speaker Laurie Jinkins (pictured) to ensure that the measure gets a floor vote this session. Jinkins is a co-sponsor of the House version of the bill. “Now she holds the gavel for the full chamber, and should push this capricious and biased punishment out of state law,” the editorial states.