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Republicans join effort to abolish death penalty in Ohio
By Megan Henry
(November 5, 2017) — With another execution looming next week in Ohio, a Democratic lawmaker is pushing a bill that would eliminate the death penalty in the Buckeye State.
Although similar tries in three previous legislative sessions have gone nowhere, this time some Republicans are on board.
House Bill 389, sponsored by Rep. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, would replace capital punishment with a life sentence without parole.
“The consideration of death by the state would be off the table. … This doesn’t mean they aren’t prosecuted to the fullest extent by the law,” Antonio said.
Support for the death penalty is the lowest it has been in more than four decades, a 2016 Pew Research Center study shows. Nearly half of Americans, 49 percent, favor the death penalty for those convicted of murder while 42 percent oppose it. The Gallup Poll shows the same trend.
A 2015 CBS News Poll showed that an overwhelming majority of Republicans, 73 percent, favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder. Democrats were more split on the issue, with 44 percent favoring the death penalty and 46 percent opposing it.
The surveys indicate Americans are increasingly concerned about innocent people on death row and racial disparities in sentencing. But proposed changes in Ohio’s death-penalty procedures by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor have made little headway.
Antonio’s bill has bipartisan support. Reps. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, and Craig Riedel, R-Defiance, are co-sponsors.
“It’s a life issue,” Antani said.
He says the ability to put someone to death is “way too big of a power” for the government.
As a Roman Catholic, Riedel opposes capital punishment.
“It’s my faith that has led me to believe to not support the death penalty,” Riedel said. “Mankind is not in charge of natural death.”
This is not the first legislative effort that has tried to put an end to capital punishment in Ohio. In fact, this is the fourth time Antonio has introduced the same bill to the General Assembly.
“We are not saying do not punish the criminal,” Antonio said. “Punish the criminal through a sentence of life without parole.”
Capital punishment is legal in 31 states, including Ohio.
The next execution is scheduled for Nov. 15. Alva Campbell, 69, is set to die that day by lethal injection at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. He was sentenced to death for the 1997 aggravated murder of 18-year-old Charles Dials after taking a deputy’s gun, escaping custody and car-jacking Dials’ vehicle near the Franklin County Courthouse in Columbus. The Ohio Parole Board has recommended Gov. John Kasich deny clemency to Campbell.
This would be Ohio’s third execution in four months, after a lengthy delay until the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the state’s lethal-injection protocol. Gary Otte was executed Sept. 13 using three lethal drugs, and Ronald Phillips was executed July 26.
“I’ve visited death row inmates and they don’t like my bill,” Antonio said.
She said they view the death penalty as a way to put them out of their misery.
“Ohio is an outlier” when it comes to executions, said Kevin Werner, executive director of Ohioans to Stop Executions.
Currently, 27 men are scheduled to be executed in Ohio, including Campbell.
“There’s no state in the country that has that many executions lined up that far in advance,” Werner said.
Almost 140 prisoners were on death row in Ohio as of Oct. 2, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
Some people are put on death row only to be later found not guilty, Antonio said.
“I would think that no one would want to sentence any innocent person to death,” Antonio said.
Despite the shift in public attitudes, the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association continues to support capital punishment, said John Murphy, executive director.
“We would oppose a bill to abolish the death penalty,” Murphy said.
The association has maintained opposition to the repeal of the death penalty, said Wood County Prosecutor Paul Dobson, president of the group.
“We believe it’s a deterrent factor of the most serious crimes,” Dobson said.
Megan Henry is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps Statehouse News Bureau.