Ohio lawmakers are again considering abolishing the death penalty. Will it pass this time?
Bills to abolish the death penalty in Ohio have been proposed for more than a decade. But the latest bill to do that appears to have more support from more majority Republicans, including Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland).
Schmidt and the bill's joint sponsor, Rep. Adam Miller (D-Columbus), got their first chance to testify for it in committee on Wednesday. Schmidt, a veteran conservative lawmaker, said 11 death row convictions have been overturned in Ohio since the state resumed executions in 1999.
“Wrongful convictions do occur in Ohio,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt, a strong opponent of legal abortion rights, cited her values when supporting this bill by saying she believes life begins at conception and it ends with natural death.
Rep. Josh Williams (R-Sylvania) also supports the bill. Those two conservative lawmakers join a group of Republican legislators who have come out against capital punishment in recent years.
But there are many in the Republican-dominated Ohio Legislature who want to keep capital punishment on the books, including the leader of the Ohio House, Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill).
“I’m personally against abolishing the death penalty,” Stephens told reporters Tuesday.
Democrats in the Ohio House and Senate have repeatedly pushed to get rid of the death penalty during the past two decades. Schmidt said many of them, if not all, support this bill.
Those who oppose the death penalty also often cite the high legal cost of appeals. Attorney General David Yost, in his Capital Crimes Report, said it would cost the state somewhere between $128 million and $384 million dollars to impose the death penalty for the 128 prisoners currently on Ohio's death row.
Studies have also shown there are some counties where an inmate is more likely to receive the death penalty. And studies have also shown racial and gender disparities in the application of the death penalty in Ohio.
Prosecutors don’t like the bill
Lou Tobin, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, said the death penalty needs to remain on the books to prosecute the most violent offenders. He said the death penalty today is used for multiple murders and heinous crimes.
“At the end of the day, we think this legislation flies in the face of what the public wants. And if they think this is what the public wants, they should put it to the vote of the people,” Tobin said.
Tobin said the death penalty can act as a deterrent. And as far as an increased cost of prosecuting death penalty cases, Tobin said “justice demands what justice demands.”
Since 1999, 56 executions have taken place in Ohio. And there have been questions about some of those.
In 2006, Joseph Clark raised his head off the gurney, saying “It don’t work. It don’t work.” Witnesses reported hearing moaning, crying and guttural noises during the 90 minute-long execution.
In 2009, Rommel Broom’s execution was stopped after two hours of unsuccessful attempts to establish a viable IV line for the procedure. He eventually died in prison of COVID in 2020.
In 2014, witnesses said Dennis McGuire said he appeared to be struggling to breathe during his execution, and was gasping loudly and making choking sounds for at least ten minutes. It took more than 25 minutes to execute him with a combination of midazolam and hydromorphone, which were drugs that hadn't been used before after a drug that had been commonly used became difficult to obtain.
In 2017, the execution of Alva Campbell was put on hold after a suitable vein couldn't be found. Campbell died of cancer and other health complications in 2018.
When Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine took office in 2019, he put the death penalty on hold, saying the state couldn’t get the lethal drugs it needed to carry out the executions. It has remained on hold ever since.