Saying that “[l]ethal injection appears to us to be impossible from a practical point of view today,” Ohio Governor Mike DeWine (pictured) told reporters it is “pretty clear” that the state will not execute anyone in 2021.

In a December 8, 2020 year-end interview with Associated Press, DeWine said the state has an “unofficial moratorium” on the death penalty as a result of its inability to procure lethal injection execution drugs and that legislators would have to choose a different method of putting prisoners to death before executions resume in the future. Ohio has not conducted an execution since July 2018, and DeWine said he did not think the legislature would consider switching execution methods to be a priority.

DeWine’s announcement is the latest in a long series of death-penalty related developments in Ohio in 2019 and 2020. In January 2019, federal magistrate Judge Michael Merz, likening the state’s execution process to a combination of waterboarding, suffocation, and exposure to chemical fire, issued an opinion saying that executions under Ohio’s current drug protocol “will almost certainly subject [prisoners] to severe pain and needless suffering.” In response to that ruling, DeWine halted all executions in the state until the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction developed a new court-approved execution protocol. “Ohio is not going to execute someone under my watch when a federal judge has found it to be cruel and unusual punishment,” he said then.

In July 2019, DeWine postponed the execution of Warren Henness because the state could not procure lethal-injection drugs. He told reporters that pharmaceutical manufacturers are unwilling to sell the state drugs for executions and have threatened to stop selling medicines to any state agency if they suspect the drugs might be diverted from therapeutic use to use in executions. He issued more reprieves in October 2019, March 2020, June 2020, and September 2020, describing them as necessary because of “ongoing problems involving the willingness of pharmaceutical suppliers to provide drugs to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC), pursuant to DRC protocol, without endangering other Ohioans.”

In 1981, during DeWine’s time as a state legislator, he helped write Ohio’s death-penalty law. He told Associated Press that, at that time, “I voted for the death penalty [believing] … that it in fact did deter crime, which to me is the moral justification.” Now, he said, he is “much more skeptical” about whether the death penalty is a deterrent.

DeWine said the unofficial moratorium would continue indefinitely unless the legislature adopted an alternative execution method. Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association Director Lou Tobin expressed incredulity at DeWine’s assertion that execution drugs are unavailable. “Seven other states and the federal government proceeded with executions in 2019 and 2020,” he said. “Two of those states used the same drug cocktail Ohio uses. How are these other states and the federal government getting the drugs but Ohio can’t? I think that question should be answered before we talk about what the alternatives are.”

Democratic state senator Nickie Antonio, who was one of two senators in a bipartisan coalition that announced in March its intention to introduce death-penalty repeal legislation, suggested that the governor’s statements indicated that he might be open to repealing the state’s death penalty. “I can’t get into his head or look into his heart, but I think he’s signaled it in many ways,” she said.

The coalition’s other state senator, Republican Kristina Roegner, said that “I don’t think it would be intellectually honest of me” to be pro-life and support the death penalty. “There is a beating heart. That’s a human, and I just don’t think it’s right to take their lives either,” she said.


Julie Carr Smyth, Farnoush Amiri, and Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Ohio gov­er­nor: Lethal injec­tion no longer exe­cu­tion option, Associated Press, December 8, 2020; Anna Staver, Without lethal injec­tion, how will Ohio car­ry out the ulti­mate pun­ish­ment’?, Columbus Dispatch, December 132020.