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Task Force Recommends Major Overhaul of Ohio’s Death Penalty

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A special task force studying the death penalty in Ohio is making dozens of recommendations it says would help ensure the state does not execute innocent people. For Ohio Public Radio, WKSU’s M.L. Schultze talked with the head of the committee about some of its key provisions.

Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 5:07 pm

The task force has been at work for two years – appointed by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor.

The head of the commission, retired appeals Judge James Brogan, says its mission was never to recommend whether Ohio should have a death penalty. Rather, it was to come up with steps to do what it can to ensure capital punishment is applied fairly and equally.

Brogan noted any of the recommendations have to do with evidence.

“That the evidence that is used to have a death penalty verdict be much higher quality of evidence," Brogan said. "That no snitch testimony be permitted because it’s so wrought with being false. So many wrongful convictions come from also junk science, and we’ve required that coroners’ offices and police labs be certified so we don’t have the junk science presented to the jury.”

The recommendations would also guard against use of the death penalty when someone is mentally ill, and increase the evidence that prosecutors must provide defense attorneys -- especially if it might clear the defendant.

Mike Brickner with the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio said the recommendations are long overdue.

"The death penalty when it was brought back in Ohio was really intended to be for the worst of the worst," Brickner said. "But instead, because of the way that the system works, because we can use capital punishment as a bargaining chip in the courtroom, that many times people who are not the worst of the worst who sometimes shouldn't be considered for the death penalty end up with the death penalty, while other people who may sit under that rubric plead out and are saved from death row."

With reporting by Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles.