Perhaps it’s time for Ohio to rethink the death penalty.
I don’t appear to be the only Ohioan who thinks that way, as a poll conducted last year shows nearly 60% of Ohioans support replacing the death penalty with life in prison without parole, according to the Ohio Capital Journal.
The poll was released in late January by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the advocacy group Ohioans to Stop Executions. The accuracy of polling conducted by at least one group with an obvious agenda aside, it is something that should still be discussed.
On a moral standpoint, I am personally OK with the idea of the death penalty. For example, I have no problem with the executions of serial killer John Wayne Gacy or domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
However, there are many arguments that can be made against the death penalty. The possibility of executing an innocent person, for instance, and documented cases of racial disparities in doling out the punishment are two good reasons.
I believe those issues could likely be resolved without removing capital punishment entirely, but there are still issues I have that can’t be so easily fixed.
One is the simple cost. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, studies have shown overall it costs more to execute someone than to sentence them to life without parole.
According to a 2018 fiscal note and local impact statement from the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, studies in other states have found capital cases cost $1-3 million more than life imprisonment cases.
It does result in higher incarceration costs— $412,000 per death row inmate to $562,000 per inmate serving life without parole— but that still results in $850,000 in savings overall on the low end.
Perhaps my biggest concern, though, is the potential unconstitutionality of it.
The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution forbids “cruel and unusual punishment” and stories I’ve read about capital punishment seem to fit the bill.
In fact, in 2019 The Columbus Dispatch reported a federal judge likened one part of Ohio’s three-drug execution to fatal “waterboarding” and believed the other two drugs likely cause agony.
Magistrate Judge Michael R. Merz was quoted as saying “that should be enough to constitute cruel and unusual punishment.”
Testimony included in that story described the three drugs causing sensations of drowning, suffocation and fire being poured into their veins.
Those drugs are also getting nearly impossible to find, with Gov. Mike DeWine saying in December there was an “unofficial moratorium” on executions in Ohio, according to the Associated Press. He said that lawmakers need to choose a different method to lethal injection.
While the electric chair may seem like the obvious example, I found a quote from U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan describing death by electric chair that is too grisly for me to share here. Needless to say, I don’t see it being any less cruel and unusual.
No, I think the state’s “unofficial moratorium” should be made official and permanent.