The State of Ohio has started a killing-spree, with 27 executions scheduled in the next few months. Ronald R. Phillips was the first to die on Wednesday.
After over three-years without an execution, Ohio is moving full-steam ahead. Yet, Ohio resumes the use of executions even though Ohio has done little to address the fifty-six recommendations set out in 2014 by a blue-ribbon Joint Task Force created by the Ohio Supreme Court to carefully look at Ohio’s death penalty. These recommendations would have helped make Ohio’s death penalty less arbitrary, decrease the risk of botched executions, and reduce the likelihood that innocent people will be executed.
Ohio’s application of the death penalty is arbitrary and unfair because the decision about who lives and dies is based more on geography and race than the actual crime committed. One county (Cuyahoga), with only 11% of Ohio’s population, is responsible for nearly 40% of all capital indictments. Race of the victim also matters more than the crime. As one report explains, “despite the fact that …. [t]wo-thirds of all Ohio murder victims are people of color, … in 2013 three out of four new death sentences were for the murder of White people. Since executions resumed in Ohio nearly 77% have been for the murder of White people.”
In addition, the specter of botched executions looms large over Ohio. Ohio’s last execution in 2014 involved a controversial three-drug lethal injection cocktail that used the drug midazolam as a sedative. It did not go well. Dennis Maguire gasped and heaved for 25 minutes before finally succumbing to the lethal injection. Other states who have tried to use midazolam have had similar problems. Yet, Ohio’s proposed three-drug protocol still relies on midazolam. This does not bode well for future executions.
And then there is that pesky issue of innocence. In Ohio alone, 9 men were wrongly convicted and sentenced to die, only to have their innocence established before their executions. Nationally, a total of 159 innocent men have been exonerated from death row.
That number represents just the people whose innocence was uncovered before they were killed by the state. How many other people on death row are still waiting for their innocence to be revealed? Sam Gross, a leading innocence scholar, estimates that 4% of all people sentenced to death are actually innocent. Think about that for a minute. And then think about the 27 men scheduled to be executed in rapid succession.
There are better, more humane and less permanent ways to punish people who commit murder. The sky did not crumble when Ohio refrained from its death penalty use. There is no legitimate reason for Ohio to start again now.