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Ohio Justice, Death Row Exoneree Say Innocence Is Reason Enough to Abolish Capital Punishment

Posted on Mar 15, 2016

Ohio Justice, Death Row Exoneree Say Innocence Is Reason Enough to Abolish Capital Punishment

In two separate op-eds, an Ohio Supreme Court Justice and a death row exoneree from Ohio expressed concerns about wrongful convictions that have led them to believe the death penalty should be abolished. In The Highland County Press, Justice Paul Pfeifer (pictured, r.) wrote about the “long and complex” case of Thomas Keenan, who was granted a new trial because prosecutors illegally withheld evidence. Pfeifer points to the misconduct in Keenan’s case as a reason why the death penalty should be abolished: “If he had been executed, there would have been no way for the state to cleanse itself from the awful reality of having executed a person who had not received his full measure of legal protection. To ensure that never happens, the Ohio Legislature should – in my opinion – abolish the death penalty.” Writing for CNN, death row exoneree Ricky Jackson (pictured, l.) argued that the risk of wrongful convictions is too great to continue using the death penalty. Jackson, who was sentenced to death and spent 39 years wrongfully incarcerated before his 2014 exoneration, said “The fact that we too often send innocent people to death row in this country can no longer be debated. I ought to know. I was one of them.” Citing cases such as Cameron Todd Willingham and Carlos DeLuna, Jackson cautioned that not all innocent people sent to death row are exonerated. “Some of those likely innocents,” he said, “have been executed at the hands of the government.” Jackson recently appeared at a Democratic town hall debate at which he asked Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton how one could support capital punishment knowing about stories like his. Clinton called Jackson’s case “a travesty,” but said she continues to believe the federal death penalty should be available for cases of mass killings or terrorism. Jackson responded to Clinton’s stance, writing, “In cases such as those, the societal pressure to convict is at its highest. And when an intense pressure to convict is present, that is when the risk of convicting an innocent is greatest.”

(P. Pfeifer, “A long and complex history,” The Highland County Press, March 6, 2016; R. Jackson, “Exonerated death row inmate: Clinton wrong on death penalty,” CNN, March 14, 2016.) See Innocence.