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It's Time to End Ohio's Death Penalty

By Nickie J. Antonio
November 1, 2023
The Democratic Standard

This General Assembly, I have once again introduced bipartisan legislation to end the use of the death penalty in the state of Ohio, replacing it with a sentence of life in prison without parole for capital cases. This 135th General Assembly,  Senate Bill 101 will be the vehicle.

Death penalty repeal bills have been introduced in Ohio many times over the last decade. I continue to speak with my colleagues in the Statehouse on both sides of the aisle every day, and the momentum for ending the death penalty is palpable.

Though there has, for many years, been bipartisan support for abolishing the death penalty, this General Assembly’s bill has brought together the strongest bipartisan and bicameral effort yet. The bill is sponsored by over one-third of the Senate, including five Republicans and seven Democrats. The House also has a bipartisan companion bill, House Bill 259, which has already received multiple hearings this year.

These recent benchmarks are somewhat unsurprising. For many legislators, abolishing the death penalty has been described as a commonsense policy. Not only is the death penalty at odds with moral, religious and pro-life stances, but capital punishment is an enormous drain on our state’s financial resources. In Ohio, the cost of prosecuting a capital case is ten times more expensive than that of a non-capital case, even before accounting for years of appeals that may follow a conviction.

On March 31, 2023, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost released Ohio’s annual Capital Crimes report for 2022. Findings within the report estimate that it will cost Ohio between $128 million and $384 million to impose the death penalty on the 128 prisoners currently on death row. These numbers are even more egregious when we consider how rarely we actually use the death penalty. Even after setting an execution date, a prisoner is “more likely to die of suicide or natural causes than as a result of execution.” This is due to multiple factors, such as the length of trials and appeals, high demand for lawyers, and ongoing difficulty in obtaining lethal injection drugs. Just this year, Governor DeWine has issued six reprieves of execution, delaying them until after 2026.

Perhaps one of the most compelling arguments to end capital punishment in Ohio came from former Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer. He was one of three Republican state senators who resurrected Ohio’s capital punishment statute in 1981. In 2012, he testified as a proponent in support of the abolition bill. “The death penalty in Ohio has become what I call a death lottery,” Pfeifer told the House Criminal Justice Committee. “The application is hit or miss depending on where you happen to commit the crime and the attitude of the prosecutor in that county.” He added, “I believe Ohio is no longer well served by our death penalty statute. It should be repealed.”

Where you live, your economic status and the county tax dollars available to a prosecutor can also determine whether or not a death sentence will be sought. Ohio has had eleven innocent people sentenced to die and then exonerated, eight of whom were Black men. These exonerees illustrate that the death penalty is fallible and administered with disparities across both economic and racial lines. Meanwhile, the torturous, decades-long process of pursuing a capital sentence ignores the needs of victims’ family members and repeatedly traumatizes them. I have also heard from leaders in law enforcement who have spoken out about the trauma the death penalty causes prison staff.

Another economic-based rationale for ending the practice is international business. Last year, I had the opportunity to sit down with representatives from France, Belgium, Germany and other European countries who made clear that international businesses want to invest in states inn our country,  that have outlawed the death penalty. If we want Ohio to remain at the forefront of opportunity and innovation, we must catch up to the rest of the world.

The death penalty’s flaws are more than just its practical failings. The death penalty is an affront to our ideals as an evolving society, whether we politically identify as Republican, Democrat, somewhere in between or no affiliation at all.

The Senate Democratic Caucus works hard to make Ohio a better place to work and live for our constituents, and this includes good bipartisan policy decisions such as ending capital punishment. No matter where you are politically, we hope we can agree that repealing this barbaric practice just makes sense.