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Ohio lawmakers introduce another effort to abolish the death penalty

L-R Senators Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City), Michelle Reynolds (R-Canal Winchester), Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus) and Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) at mic
Jo Ingles
Statehouse News Bureau
L-R Senators Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City), Michelle Reynolds (R-Canal Winchester), Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus) and Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) at mic

State lawmakers are once again supporting a bill that would abolish the death penalty in Ohio. A bill that would do that has been introduced in the legislature for more than a decade. But the lawmakers backing this bill think it has a better chance now.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) and Republican Sen. Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City) said they agree on the bill to abolish the death penalty.

“We are moving to replace the death penalty and capital punishment when there is surety of the accused to a life in prison without parole," Antonio said

“There should be one being that decides whether you live or die and that’s the Lord," Huffman said.

Sen. Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus) said the death penalty is unfairly applied to minorities.

“A 2020 study examining the way the death penalty is applied in Hamilton County showed that Black men are three and five times more likely to receive a death sentence if their victim was white.”

And Sen. Michele Reynolds (R-Canal Winchester) said it's the wrong thing to do, especially when you consider the state has made mistakes in the past.

“We cannot tolerate putting an innocent person to death. Ohio is home to 11 death row exonerees who collectively have spent 216 years, incarcerated for crimes they did not commit," Reynolds said.

The lawmakers also said the death penalty is too expensive and often forces families of victims to testify many times, making it hard to have closure.

But prosecutors say a death penalty repeal is dangerous and out of touch. Louis Tobin, the executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association said in a statement: "The public is worried about rising crime and increasing violence in our communities and instead of finding ways to increase public safety, help us secure justice for victims, and find a pathway to justice for the victims of Ohio’s most horrific crimes, we have legislators who want to cut Ohio’s worst criminals a break. It’s unfortunate, it’s dangerous, and it’s out of touch."

Democrats have largely supported the abolition of the death penalty, but Republican support has been increasing in the last ten years, with then-Rep. Niraj Antani, now a Senator from Miamisburg, first joining Antonio to sponsor a death penalty repeal in 2015.

The last time a death row inmate in Ohio was executed was July 18, 2018, when Robert Van Hook was executed for the 1985 murder of David Self of Cincinnati.

No executions have taken place during Gov. Mike DeWine's administration, after he noted in February 2019 that a federal court ruled Ohio's lethal injection protocolwas cruel and unusual punishment. Since then, he's turned the issue over to state lawmakers while also saying the state couldn't acquire lethal injection drugs. In 2020, DeWine said that lethal injection “appears to us to be impossible from a practical point of view”.

Note: this story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Sen. Michele Reynolds' name.

Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.