Bipartisan Legislation Would End the Death Penalty in Ohio

"[The death penalty] has been found to be expensive, impractical, unjust, unfair, inhumane and–in the past– even erroneous"

The sponsors of the bill at the statehouse yesterday - Ohio Senate
Ohio Senate
The sponsors of the bill at the statehouse yesterday

Bipartisan legislation introduced this week in Ohio could finally end the state's use of capital punishment.

Senate Bill 103
, sponsored by Republican Stephen Huffman and Democrat Nickie Antonio and co-sponsored by nine others, would replace death sentences with life sentences without the possibility of parole.

“This isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue. No matter what a person’s reason for supporting this legislation, it’s critical for our own collective humanity,” said Nickie Antonio, who has introduced a version of the bill in every general assembly since first elected as a state senator, at a conference announcing the legislation.

“Like so many Ohioans, I once supported capital punishment and over time, with prayer and reflection, have come to believe it’s the wrong policy for the state of Ohio,” said Huffman.

Ohio hasn’t executed anyone since 2018 and, because of difficulties sourcing lethal injections, the state has an unofficial moratorium on executions until legislators settle on another method. For legal and ethical reasons, most pharmaceutical companies don’t want to be associated with executions, making lethal injection meds difficult for states to procure.

Because of this shortage, the task of manufacturing lethal injections often falls to compounding pharmacies, which make custom drugs for people with unique needs not met by mass produced pharmaceuticals.

Critics have called lethal injection cocktails produced in compounding pharmacies experimental, pointing to executions by lethal injection that have gone wrong as evidence. In 2014, Ohio passed a law to shield the names of those companies from the public, but the shortage has persisted.

Momentum has built in conservative circles in recent years to do away with the death penalty, including from a statewide group called Ohio Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty that launched in 2020. And the majority of Ohioans now support its abolition.

Despite the bill’s bipartisan support and co-sponsorship, it has a long way to go. One vocal opponent of the bill is Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost.

"The bottom line: Ohio’s death penalty is a farce and a broken promise of justice – and it must be fixed. This discussion has been a long time coming, so let’s have it now,” said Yost in a statement. "If Ohio chooses to end capital punishment, let it own the decision in the full light of day. I will stand on the other side, with the families of the slain.”

Although prisoners on death row theoretically spend less time in prison than those serving life sentences, cost studies have found that a single death penalty case can cost up to 10 times more than non-death penalty cases.

And, despite the argument that capital punishment works as a deterrent to violent crime, a survey of the presidents of top academic criminological societies found that 88% of the experts disagreed that the death penalty was an effective deterrent.

Additionally, there has been no proven correlation between capital punishment and murder rates. Every year between 2009 and 2019, states without the death penalty had lower murder rates than those that did.

"[The death penalty] has been found to be expensive, impractical, unjust, unfair, inhumane and–in the past– even erroneous, as indicated by Ohio’s 11 death row exonerees," said Antonio.

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