NEW VOICES: Former Ohio Attorney General Now Says Society Better Off Without Death Penalty

Jim Petro (pictured), former Attorney General of Ohio, strongly supported the death penalty as a state legislator, believed the state would save money because of the death penalty, and that it would act as a deterrent. But, he recently said, “Neither of those things have occurred, so I ask myself, ‘Why would I vote for it again?’ I don’t think I would. I don’t think the law has done anything to benefit society and us. It’s cheaper and, in my view, sometimes a mistake can be made, so perhaps we are better off with life without parole.” He added, “We are probably safer, better and smarter to not have a death penalty.” Many of Petro’s concerns are in his book, False Justice: Eight Myths that Convict the Innocent, in which he underscores the risks of mistake and identifies flaws in how police and prosecutors have handled capital cases. He also noted that many prosecutors recognize these problems: “I would bet certainly well over half the prosecutors in the country looking at this book would ultimately agree with most of the issues,” he said.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer, who also helped write the state’s death penalty law, has likewise changed his views and urged its repeal. Justice Pfeifer, a Republican, recently told the state House of Representatives, “The death sentence makes no sense to me at this point when you can have life without possibility of parole. I don’t see what society gains from that.”

(M. Naymik, “Jim Petro questions about the death penalty stop short of calling for repeal,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 22, 2012). See Innocence, Life Without Parole and New Voices. The latest person in the country to be exonerated and freed from death row was from Ohio. Joe D’Ambrosio was exonerated in 2012 after his 1989 conviction was overturned because prosecutors withheld crucial evidence from the defense. Six former death row inmates from Ohio have been exonerated since 1973.