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September 16, 2020

Some Buckeye death penalty whos and history

SealOHAs I mentioned in class, we can only briefly touch on so many interesting big and little issues relating to the death penalty in class that I would eagerly give more time and attention in this forum.  Absent suggestions, I will share (and enhance) items from my inbox of interest.  Today, this involves this great new article from The Appeal: Political Report headlined "Cincinnati Is An Epicenter For The Death Penalty. Its Prosecutor Race Could End That In November." 

Though the piece covers lots of ground, the subheadline of the piece highlights its main focus: In Hamilton County, Joe Deters has sent more people to death row than any other prosecutor in Ohio. His challenger, Fanon Rucker, promises to stop that practice."  I highly recommend this lengthy article because it provides lots of background (and links) on the current state of the debate over capital punishment in the Buckeye State while also noting/quoting a wide array of interesting "whos" involved in this debate.  Here is just one of a number of notable passages:

“Things have shifted in the last two years, now we’re focused fully on repeal,” said Hannah Kubbins, the state director at Ohioans to Stop Executions.  Kubbins doesn’t expect much movement on the issue this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic, the lame duck session, and the presidential election.  But she says advocates are gearing up to push through a repeal bill in the next legislative session.

Louis Tobin, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association declined to comment for this story, but said in February that “we’re disturbed” by discussions of repealing the death penalty.  A month earlier Tobin said, “All of the challenges that we see to the death penalty right now will switch to life without parole.  And the next thing you know we won’t have life without parole either.”

Kubbins, who emphasized that her nonprofit organization does not endorse candidates, said prosecutors and prosecutor associations “oppose any reform that could reduce their power.”  She urged voters to pay attention to their county prosecutor races, and to consider how county resources spent on the death penalty could be redirected toward unsolved crimes.

Rucker told the Political Report he would be “very willing to offer my voice of advocacy” for statewide repeal of the death penalty.  “Justice demands consistency and it’s not consistent to have such overwhelmingly differing ends of punishment in a system that says it’s about treating all fairly regardless of their background,” he said.

I am not sure I entirely understand this last quote from Rucker, but earlier in this article he more directly explains his support its abolition: "'I would absolutely support repeal of it because our Supreme Court has identified, and folks across the country have realized, it’s ineffective, inefficient, and certainly there are arguments about the immorality as well,' Rucker told The Appeal: Political Report."  (I am not sure which Supreme Court Rucker is referencing here, but maybe he is thinking about this Ohio Supreme Court 2014 Task Force report to which I had the honor of contributing.)

Interestingly, I noticed on this Issues page of "Fanon Rucker for Prosecutor" that there is no mention of the death penalty.  There is this promise: "Our office will aggressively pursue and put a significant amount of financial resources to the prosecution of those who physically harm children, the elderly and loved ones."  But apparently Rucker will not (ever?) consider pursuing a capital prosecution to that end.

Meanwhile for a broader and more comprehensive look at the modern death penalty in the Buckeye state, I also highly recommend the latest version of the Ohio Attorney General's annual report on the death penalty, the 2019 Capital Crimes Annual Report.  This document (which is nearly 400 pages long) gets updated on April 1 each year, and it provides information and a procedural history on each and every case that has resulted in a death sentence in Ohio since 1981.  This webpage provides this statistical summary:

According to the report, from 1981 through 2019, a total of 143 death sentences remained active including those currently pending in state and federal courts.  In 2019, six individuals received a total of seven death sentences and were added to death row. 

Since 1981, Ohio has issued a total of 340 death sentences.  A total of 56 death row inmates have been executed under Ohio’s current law since 1981.  Over the same period, a total of 21 death row inmates have received a commutation of their death sentence to a sentence less than the death penalty.

Last but not least, the Fall 2019 issue of the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law included a bunch of original article authored by notable folks about the death penalty in the Buckeye State and elsewhere.  Of particular note and interest is this short piece by former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer titled "Ohio's Modern Death Penalty — From Architect to Opponent."  Here is its first sentence, and a line from near the end of the piece that reminded me of some language in McGautha:

Ohio's death penalty statute has, in practice, resulted in a "death lottery" that should be abandoned....

It is unevenly applied by prosecutors, juries, judges, and the Supreme Court — not out of malice or malfeasance, but because measurement and calibration are impossible.

September 16, 2020 in Data on sentencing, Death penalty history, Who decides | Permalink


I am troubled by the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association's (OPAA) response to a repeal of the death penalty in Ohio. I think Ohio has a particularly problematic relationship with the death penalty, especially since Cuyahoga County dealt out more death sentences in 2019 than any other county nationwide, not to mention the Hamilton County concerns the article above describes. I also want to note that I think OPAA's response to a potential death penalty repeal is a fear tactic to prevent any sort of reform. It is concerning to me that this is the rhetoric of OPAA, rather than a genuine examination of the extremely troubling patterns in how Ohio doles out the death penalty. This is especially concerning since prosecutors are the people who determine whether or not death is on the table. Discussions on abolishing the death penalty should not be derailed by a "slippery slope" discussion. This response implies a false equivalence between the government actively ending someone's life and the government incapacitating someone for the remainder of their life. Instead, this should be a discussion of how comfortable should we as a society be in condoning our government executing its citizens. How comfortable are we in condoning this state action, when it is clear that race is a factor in deciding who the government will kill. When it is obvious that within Ohio, the zip code is a factor in determining who the government will kill. For those who are advocates of the death penalty, who believe it is fitting for the worst of the worst crimes, what does it mean when being sentenced to death is not dependent on committing the worst crime, but simply dependent on if the crime was committed in Hamilton County?

Posted by: Elaine | Sep 16, 2020 9:34:56 PM

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