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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…

Republicans join effort to abolish death penalty in Ohio

Ohio's death chamber
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 3 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 4 decades, a 2016 Pew Research Center study shows. Nearly 1/2 of Americans, 49 %, favor the death penalty for those convicted of murder while 42 % oppose it. The Gallup Poll shows the same trend.

A 2015 CBS News Poll showed that an overwhelming majority of Republicans, 73 %, favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder. Democrats were more split on the issue, with 44 % favoring the death penalty and 46 % 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 1st legislative effort that has tried to put an end to capital punishment in Ohio. In fact, this is the 4th 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 3rd execution in 4 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 3 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.

Source: Times-Gazette, November 6, 2017


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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