Apr 10, 2023 - Politics

The push to end Ohio's death penalty

Data: Axios research; Chart: Axios Visuals

Two local lawmakers from opposing parties are united in seeking to abolish Ohio's death penalty.

  • Sens. Michele Reynolds (R-Canal Winchester) and Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus) say it's time to end the practice in favor of lifetime prison sentences.

Why it matters: Abolishing the death penalty would spare the lives of 10 prisoners from Franklin County and more than 100 others waiting on Ohio's death row.

  • The policy is currently under an unofficial moratorium, as the state lacks supply of the drugs used for lethal injections.

What's happening: A small, but growing faction of lawmakers has repeatedly tried to end the practice over the past decade.

  • The legislative momentum comes as the number of people executed statewide has steadily declined, an Axios review finds.
  • Once an issue backed solely by Democrats, there is now increasing support from Republicans ā€” a needed trend if abolishment is to pass a GOP-heavy Statehouse.

State of play: Ohio went nearly 40 years between executions before resuming the death penalty in 1999 under then-Gov. Bob Taft.

The intrigue: Taft, a Republican, now condemns the practice as costly and ineffective at deterring violent crime.

  • He's highlighted the racial disparity in death penalty sentences, noting that people of color make up a disproportionately high percentage of people on death row.
  • Fellow former governors Dick Celeste and Ted Strickland, both Democrats, have likewise changed their views and advocate for the policy's repeal.

Between the lines: Gov. Mike DeWine helped write the current death penalty law as a young state legislator and later defended it through two terms as attorney general, per WOSU.

  • But his support has waned since becoming governor and no executions have taken place since he took office.
  • He has said it's unlikely any will go through during the rest of his second term as Ohio continues to struggle to obtain drugs necessary for lethal injection.

The other side: Attorney General Dave Yost continues to support the death penalty "for the most abhorrent offenders."

  • He says lawmakers should either improve the "broken" capital punishment system to remove "churn, waste and endless lawsuits" or eliminate it entirely.

What we're watching: If the latest effort will reach the Senate floor for a vote, something no previous attempt in recent years has achieved.

  • Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) opposes ending the death penalty, per the Dispatch, but pledged not to block the bill if a Senate majority backs it.
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