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February 25, 2009

Effective press coverage of Ohio's modern death penalty history

The Dayton Daily News has an extraordinary collection of materials at this link under the heading "Special report: Death row in Ohio." Here is how the paper sets up its work:

About this series: For many convicted murderers, a death sentence doesn't really mean death. Since Ohio's current death penalty was put into effect, 28 people have died from state-ordered lethal injections — and 71 have walked off death row because of successful appeals.

Especially in light of our continuing discussion of McGautha and Furman and Gregg (and eventually McKlesky), this particular article from the series may deserve special attention: "Worst of the worst eludes death."

And, speaking of the worst of the worst, as some of you may already know, the modern story of the death penalty in Ohio will soon include yet another Supreme Court chapter as a result of the Justices decision earlier this week to take up another capital case from Ohio.  This article from the Cleveland Plain-Dealer provides the basic back-story:

For the second time, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether Frank Spisak should be executed for killing three people at Cleveland State University. The high court announced Monday that it will hear the arguments after years of appellate disputes over the effectiveness of Spisak's legal counsel and the instructions jurors received at his trial....

Spisak, 57, was sentenced to death in 1983 after a four-week trial that included testimony that Spisak was a neo-Nazi and cross-dresser. A jury convicted him of the 1982 killings of the Rev. Horace Rickerson; Brian Warford, a CSU student; and Timothy Sheehan, CSU's assistant superintendent for buildings and grounds. Sheehan was the father of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Brendan Sheehan.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2006 that Spisak's death sentence should be dropped, and a new sentencing hearing should be set. The appellate court said defense attorneys "demonized" Spisak in closing arguments during the sentencing phase of the trial. It also said jury instructions as to the death penalty were unconstitutional. Specifically, the instructions during the sentencing phase erroneously required the jury to be unanimous in its findings that Spisak should not be executed.

February 25, 2009 in Ohio news and commentary | Permalink


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Here is an interesting article from the New York Times entitled "Citing Cost, States Consider Halting Death Penalty." There are a few snippets (in the format of Professor Berman's blog) that relate to today's discussion on beans and the players within those beans.

Prosecutors: “How do you put a price tag on crimes that don’t happen because threat of the death penalty deters them?” said Scott Shellenberger, the state’s attorney for Baltimore County, Md., who opposes the repeal bill

Legislature: "While lawmakers have proposed allowing prison officials to release low-risk offenders up to 90 days before the end of their sentences, citing a potential saving of $50 million, they are also considering expanding who is eligible for capital punishment to people who assist in killings but do not commit them and to people convicted of murdering fire marshals or auxiliary police officers who are on duty."

Legal Experts: "Eric M. Freedman, a death penalty expert at Hofstra Law School, said studies had shown that plea bargaining rates were roughly the same in states that had the death penalty as in states that did not."

Money: "The Urban Institute study of Maryland concluded that because of appeals, it cost as much as $1.9 million more for a state prosecutor to put someone on death row than it did to put a person in prison. A case that resulted in a death sentence cost $3 million, the study found, compared with less than $1.1 million for a case in which the death penalty was not sought."


Sorry for the long post.

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