Cordray: Death appeals too long


COLUMBUS (AP) — Ohio’s appeal process for inmates sentenced to death is still too long and sometimes defeats the possibility of justice being served, Attorney General Richard Cordray told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The long appeals process makes it difficult when, after a dozen years in the courts, a retrial involving a new prosecutor and new police officials may take place, Cordray said.

“That is a definite downside to a long, long appellate process,” he said. “If it does lead to a retrial, it’s very difficult to feel that fair justice can be achieved on a redo because so much changes over time, particularly in presenting factual evidence to juries.”

However, Cordray said the appeals process properly results in second looks at some cases. He’s only been in office a few months, so he says he doesn’t have any proposals for shortening the current appeals process just yet.

Cordray released his office’s annual capital punishment report Wednesday. Among other findings, the report lists 21 men on death row whose death penalty appeals are all but exhausted. That’s the highest number this decade.

Cordray, a longtime supporter of the death penalty, backed efforts to reduce the length of the appeals process in the early 1990s when he served as Ohio solicitor general.

A constitutional amendment in 1994 eliminated Ohio district courts from the appeals process and required death sentences to be appealed directly to the Ohio Supreme Court. That process has only made more work for the Ohio Supreme Court while doing nothing to make the process more efficient, said David Doughten, a veteran death penalty defense attorney in Cleveland.

Doughten agreed with Cordray on problems with retrials years later, but said such trials are sometimes unavoidable.

“The problem was there was not a fair trial the first time,” Doughten said. “If we took our time and spent the money and made sure there were no shortcuts in the first trial, there wouldn’t be the need for a second trial.”

Cordray, 49, criticized death penalty opponents who argue that the appeals process is so long that the system should just be done away with.

“There are lots of protagonists in the process who do their best to make the process long and make it expensive,” Cordray said. “To complain that it’s long and expensive doesn’t seem to be a really justifiable criticism.”

Cordray also said DNA testing in appropriate death penalty cases is important to determine innocence.

“Everybody who works with the capital sentencing process have always had and will always have the concern that we be certain about guilt and innocence in these cases,” he said.

“Many of the cases turn on lots of procedural claims and complaints and quibbles and so forth,” Cordray said. “But the guilt-innocence issue is always substantial.”

Ohio hasn’t executed anyone since Cordray took office in November. The state reinstated capital punishment in 1981 and has put 28 men to death since 1999.

On Tuesday, a federal appeals court delayed the April 7 execution of Brett Hartmann to await the result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision on DNA evidence testing.

2008, The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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