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January 12, 2009

Death slows in Ohio, bringing more LWOP sentences

This local AP article, headlined "Ohio death sentences declining: Crime rates are down; fewer criminals eligible," reports on the slow decline of the death penalty in Ohio.  Here are excerpts:

Ohio juries sentenced only three people to death last year, matching the lowest number since the state re-enacted capital punishment 27 years ago....  Records show the number of people indicted with capital crimes in Ohio is also lower than in past decades.  Ohio has 179 people on death row, the lowest figure in several years. The state has executed 28 defendants since 1999.

Prosecutors attribute the decline in death sentences to reduced crime rates and court decisions that have narrowed the eligibility for the death penalty. They also say the availability of a sentence of life without the possibility of parole is leading juries to sentence fewer people to death....

Ohio juries sentenced three people to death in 1982, the first full year the death penalty was in place following the state's enactment of a new capital punishment law the previous fall.  The number jumped to 16 in 1984 and hit a high of 24 in 1985.  Death sentences have been in the single digits in Ohio since 2003 when 12 sentences were handed out....

Death sentences in Ohio have been on a decline since 1996 when lawmakers gave jurors the option to sentence capital defendants to life without the possibility of parole.  In 2005, the law changed again, this time allowing prosecutors to seek a life without parole sentence without first seeking a death sentence.

That option made life without parole even more popular.  The prison system admitted 104 defendants serving life without parole from 2005 through 2008, a 38 percent increase over the four years before the law took effect.  Over the same time, prosecutors sought fewer death sentences to begin with in Ohio, from a high of 97 in 2004 to 69 last year, according to data analyzed by the Ohio State Public Defender's Office.

January 12, 2009 at 02:00 AM | Permalink

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