COLUMBUS – Ohio’s postponement of executions until 2017 could be a catalyst for change.
The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction announced the delay, citing difficulties obtaining the necessary drugs. Sister Andrea Koverman, program manager for the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center in Cincinnati, said it’s an opportunity to expand the dialogue about ending the death penalty.
Koverman said Ohio has faced deep problems with capital punishment, pointing to a task force report that found that in 93 percent of death-penalty cases, the state failed to apply basic standards of fairness and equity.
“Ninety-three percent is just appalling, so bringing all of the flaws and the injustices that are built into the system to public awareness has really fueled growing opposition,” she said. “People just really don’t know the facts and the truths about the system.”
The same report revealed racial disparities, with those who kill Caucasians more than three times more likely to receive the death penalty than those convicted of killing African-Americans.
Convicted murderer Dennis McGuire was the last person put to death in Ohio. His execution in 2014 took an unexpectedly long 26 minutes, during which he repeatedly gasped and snorted.
A poll from Pew Research Center found that seven in 10 Americans support the death penalty. But Koverman contended that capital punishment is not proven to be an effective deterrent to murder – and that receiving the death penalty in Ohio can be dependent upon where a person is charged.
“The idea that it’s only used for the worst of the worst isn’t true,” she said. “It depends a great deal on what county you’re in because the trials are so expensive that many counties can’t afford to have capital cases so they don’t put it on the table.”
Then there is the impact on innocent bystanders. Koverman said executions are emotionally damaging to prison staff and families of the victims.
“They are put through this prolonged process of appeals and they can’t put it to rest and have closure,” she said. “Not to mention the effect it has on the family members of the person that’s executed. There are other people affected for generations after that.”
According to the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, Ohio spends at least $17 million a year on capital cases, diverting money from other crime-prevention priorities.
The task force report is online at supremecourt.ohio.gov. The Pew poll is at people-press.org.