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April 14, 2011

Ohio state legislators make their case for death penalty abolition

As detailed in this local article, which is headlined "2 Democrats seek end to Ohio death penalty; Racial, geographic inequities cited as strikes against it," Ohio's relative success with the machinery of death is not stopping a few legislators from making the case for turning off the machine.  Here are the specifics:

Less than 24 hours after Ohio's third execution of the year, two lawmakers argued yesterday that capital punishment should be abolished to save money and remedy racial and geographic disparities about who is executed and who isn't.

Democratic state Reps. Ted Celeste of Grandview Heights and Nickie Antonio of Lakewood, sponsors of House Bill 160, testified before the Ohio House Criminal Justice Committee that a 2007 American Bar Association study found that people who killed a white person in Ohio were nearly four times as likely to get a death sentence as offenders whose victims were black. Further, although Ohio's black population is about 12.5 percent, 55 percent of those on Death Row are black. "One wrongful conviction, and someone is put to death for something they didn't do," Celeste said. "How do you live with that?"

The hearing was held the day after Clarence Carter, 49, of Hamilton County, was lethally injected for murdering Johnny Allen in 1988 when both men were incarcerated in the Hamilton County jail annex. It was the third execution of 2011 and 44th since 1999.

The abolishment proposal quickly ran into a buzz saw of Republican opposition. "I'm really concerned about all this discussion of race," said Rep. Danny Bubp of West Union, a former judge. "It offends me to say that a prosecutor ... is going to do things differently because of race."

Rep. Bill Coley, R-West Chester, likewise rejected the argument that there are flaws and inequities in how the death penalty works in Ohio. "I think sometimes there's evil people, and we need to eradicate them from the face of the Earth," he said.

In the past two years, Ohio has been second only to Texas in the number of executions. The state is on pace for a modern record 10 executions this year after putting eight men to death in 2010.

Geography is also an issue, the bill sponsors said. Although 60 Ohio counties have no one on Death Row, five -- Cuyahoga, Hamilton, Franklin, Lucas and Summit -- account for 56percent of all death sentences.

In terms of cost savings, Celeste and Antonio said a study in Maryland concluded that a life-without-parole sentence costs taxpayers about $1.1 million compared with an average $3 million to pursue a death-penalty case.  They estimated, based on Maryland's figures, that Ohio has spent $590 million in pursuing death penalty cases in the past three decades.

April 14, 2011 at 08:52 AM | Permalink

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