New bill to ban death penalty in Ohio brings in longtime conservative lawmaker as a sponsor
Democratic lawmakers have introduced a ban on the death penalty in Ohio a dozen times over the past dozen years — but a new effort has brought in one of the most conservative Republicans.
Among the Republicans backing the House bill to replace the death penalty with life without parole is state Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland), a longtime state lawmaker and a fervent opponent of abortion rights who has suggested birth control could be banned.
“I believe life begins with conception and it ends with natural death. The death penalty stops it because the death penalty is anything but natural," Schmidt said. "I was abashedly for the death penalty. But now I have switched.”
Schmidt explained her reversal on capital punishment came after meeting one of Ohio’s 11 death row exonerees, Joe D'Ambrosio. He spent more than 20 years on death row until the charges against him were dismissed, and has been lobbying for changes in the death penalty statute.
"Hearing his story and understanding how the justice system can put the wrong person in prison and understanding that his life could have ended as an innocent person in prison made me rethink my thoughts about the death penalty. And now I have reversed it," Schmidt said.
Other supporters of the ban say capital punishment is costly, racist and not a deterrent to crime. But prosecutors say a ban would take away an important tool in plea deals. The bill, cosponsored by state Rep. Adam Miller (D-Columbus), has 13 co-sponsors, six of whom are Republicans.
Miller described the current death penalty process as a "barbaric, destructive and wasteful system."
"It astounds me that we continue to waste millions and millions of taxpayer dollars on a failed system that is never, never proven to keep us safe," Miller said, adding that a study of three decades of data by the National Research Council found no credible evidence that the death penalty deters crime.
"In fact, there is evidence to the contrary that the death penalty may even be having the opposite effect," Miller said. "Murder rates are higher in states with the death penalty, and there's no evidence that it serves to protect our law enforcement officers, those sworn to uphold the law."
The bill is a companion to Senate Bill 101, introduced by Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood), who has proposed a total of seven bills to ban the death penalty.
Prosecutors have opposed these bills. After Antonio introduced SB 101 earlier this year, 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."
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.”