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February 6, 2009

Breaking Ohio death penalty news (allowing more "who" analysis)

While we were starting to work through some "who" issues in class today, an Ohio agency made a notable decision in a notable death penalty case.  Here are the basics from this Columbus Dispatch article:

A Hamilton County man who stabbed his 62-year-old mother to death while he was on a crack-cocaine binge should not be executed and should be released in as little as seven years, the Ohio Parole Board recommended to Gov. Ted Strickland.

Jeffrey Hill, 44, is scheduled to be lethally injected March 3 at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville unless Strickland or a court intervenes. Parole board members were clearly impressed with what a report released today called the "compelling and unanimous opinion" of the family of victim Emma Hill that her son and killer should not be executed. "They have suffered tremendous loss, and execution would add further to their suffering," the board said.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph T. Deters, a strong capital punishment supporter, opposed clemency.  But he said today he will no longer pursue it given the parole board recommendation and strong support from the family.  "I would have preferred he stayed in jail the rest of his life," Deters said. "We've done our job. Part of the law says this is something the governor can do."

The board recommended to Strickland that Hill's death sentence be commuted to life in prison with parole eligibility after 25 years, meaning he could be released in as little as seven years.

Hill was high on crack cocaine on March 23, 1991, when he stabbed his mother 10 times in the back and chest, stole $100 and made two trips to buy cocaine.  In a letter to the editor last month [available here], Hill's uncle, Eddie Sanders of Mount Healthy, urged public support for clemency....

All county, state and federal courts have upheld Hills conviction and death sentence.

Though everyone is encourage to comment on any aspect of this story, I would be especially interested in whether anyone might be able to develop a viable argument suggesting that Governor Strickland ought not follow the parole board's recommendation.

UPDATE:  I just found this link to the Ohio Parole Board's full order in this case.

February 6, 2009 in Clemency | Permalink


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I guess my immediate thought about why the Governor should not follow the parole board's recommendation is because it undermines the decision of the jury/judge that sentenced Hill to death.

However, it is possible that at the time of sentencing, Emma Hill's family urged for the death penalty and the jury/judge sentenced Hill to death because they were moved by the family emotions and desires. I dont know if and how we would ever know if the jury/judge decision was based on the family's desire, but if it was, then I guess then that maybe it would be okay for the Governor to undermine the jury/judge decision and follow the desires of the family.

Posted by: Jeanna | Feb 8, 2009 6:43:19 PM

I somewhat disagree with Jeanna. I don't believe the gov't or the parole board are "undermining" the jury. Most jury members will serve maybe once or twice in their life. They cannot expect to be experts on criminal sentencing matters, nor can they be assumed to know what counts as the most severe form of an offense. The parole board should be experienced on these matters and able to make recommendations such as this. I admit this argument is not as effective when a judge chooses the sentence, since they should have substantial sentencing experience. I wish this article provided more details about the sentencing decision.

Also, clemency decisions are just one of the powers we grant, correctly, I believe, to our elected executives. Overall, I think it is beneficial to have a body overseeing post-sentencing considerations.

Posted by: Shawn | Feb 8, 2009 7:30:20 PM

This case is a good example of what we discussed in Friday's class: the role of the victim in criminal sentencing. I very much agree with Prof. Berman's suggestion that our sentencing system should take into great account the wishes of the victims of crimes. I further believe that the prosecution of victimless crimes (namely drug crimes) is a colossal waste of time and money. Naturally, I think that Governor Strickland should and will respect the wishes of the victim family and parole board. Yes, if the parole board's recommendation is upheld, it will be in contradiction to the sentence given to Mr. Hill by the judge/jury. However, objecting to that is objecting to the entire system we currently have. The parole board and its counterparts are precisely in the business of reevaluating sentences after a portion of that sentence has been served. It takes into account a variety of factors, and very often upholds the original sentence, but when it doesn't, its recommendation should be followed. The judge/jury sentenced Mr. Hill according to his behavior (specific to this incident and generally) almost twenty years ago. Twenty years is a lot of time, for both the victim family and Mr. Hill, and if the parole board and the victims feel that Mr. Hill has been sufficiently rehabilitated to no longer require the death penalty, the Governor should respect those wishes. The victims have had the unfortunate task of coping with this horrific tragedy, and it is their feelings that should, and apparently do, matter the most.

Posted by: Melissa | Feb 11, 2009 10:27:39 AM

I think a viable argument that the Governor should not follow the Ohio Parole Board in this situation is that they are simply one player in the process among many, and right now the Governor is the player that truly matters (b/c of how the system is set up). In this situation there are a variety of people/groups who have already weighed in on the issue. There is a split between those who favor, or at least do not oppose, the death penalty in this scenario (judge, jury, prosecutor, state & federal court), and those who want clemency (the victim's/defendant's family, the Ohio Parole Board). Furthermore, the Governor in making determinations such as this one always has other groups to consider, perhaps most obviously the Ohio people at large. This is not to say that the Governor should not grant clemency, just that in doing so the Strickland should factor in much more than simply the Ohio Parole Board's decision.

Posted by: Zach | Feb 11, 2009 11:18:05 AM

Looks like Gov. Strickland agreed with the parole board: http://blog.cleveland.com/metro/2009/02/gov_strickland_commutes_death.html

Posted by: Shawn | Feb 12, 2009 4:54:16 PM

Looks like Gov. Strickland agreed with the parole board: http://blog.cleveland.com/metro/2009/02/gov_strickland_commutes_death.html

Posted by: Shawn | Feb 12, 2009 4:56:12 PM

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