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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Opponents Hopeful Pope's Calls to End Death Penalty Resonate in Ohio

Executions are on hold in Ohio until 2017 as prison officials search for the necessary lethal injection drugs.

Death penalty opponents are hopeful the pope's calls to stop the use of capital punishment worldwide will resonate in Ohio, where executions have been highly criticized. After a 2007 assessment found Ohio fell short in 93 % of standards for a fair and accurate state death penalty system, an Ohio Supreme Court task force put forth recommendations for improvement.

Abraham Bonowitz, spokesperson for Ohioans to Stop Executions, explains that since then, more Ohioans support the alternative of life in prison without parole. And because Pope Francis is a moral leader for the world, says Bonowitz, his calls should be heard.

"We've got many, many Catholics here and many Catholics in leadership, in the legislature for example," he says. "And what we have to realize is that all of the mainstream Christian faiths and other religions as well call for ending the death penalty."

Ohio has a moratorium on executions until at least 2017, as prison officials attempt to secure the drugs needed for lethal injection. Of more than 140 death-row inmates in Ohio, 25 have a set execution date starting early next year.

Controversy grew over the death penalty in Ohio in 2014, when Dennis McGuire appeared to choke and struggle for 10 minutes during lethal injection. The state contends he did not suffer distress, and has said it plans to increase dosages in the future. Andrea Koverman, program manager with the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center in Cincinnati, says the incident opened many people's eyes.

"More and more people are questioning the practice, not only from moral principles but because of its ineffectiveness and the expense of it all," says Koverman. "And people are realizing it has not been an effective deterrent."

Recent research from the University of North Carolina found significant racial, gender, and geographic disparities in the 53 executions performed in Ohio since the state resumed capital punishment in the 1970s. Bonowitz contends an alternative punishment is needed in order to ensure a fair system.

"It's one thing to believe in the concept of the death penalty, but if you look at it and understand how the system fails us - it's not fair, it's not equitably applied," says Bonowitz. "The more you know about the death penalty, the less you like it."

According to Ohioans to Stop Executions, 9 death row inmates have been exonerated, spending a combined 190 years on death row before release.

Source: publicnewsservice.org, Feb. 22, 2016

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