Death penalty debate revived

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Realtor Vivian Martin

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Robert Brooks

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Grant Cooper

Vivian Martin Anniversary

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By Ashley Luthern


When Davida Brown heard last week that state lawmakers are considering abolishing the death penalty, she was upset.

“It’s all right to kill, but you can’t be killed? I don’t like this at all. This is really upsetting me,” she said.

Brown’s mother, 67-year-old Vivian Martin, was murdered a year ago on the city’s East Side. The two men accused in the case, Robert S. Brooks, 26, of Castalia Avenue, Youngstown, and Grant P. Cooper, 22, of Sulgrave Drive, Brookfield, face the death penalty if convicted.

“I prefer the death penalty [as punishment], but I wouldn’t take anything less than life without parole,” said Brown, a city resident.

She added that she supported capital punishment as an option before her mother’s murder.

“I want a life for a life,” she said.

But her state representative, Robert Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th, is co-sponsoring House Bill 160 that would abolish the death penalty and require a trial court that sentenced an individual to death to resentence the inmate to life in prison without parole.

House Bill 160 was introduced by state Rep. Nickie Antonio of Lakewood, D-13th, and Rep. Ted Celeste of Grandview, D-24th, earlier this year.

“I am morally and philosophically opposed to capital punishment. I don’t think it serves any purpose but revenge. ... That’s been my position since I’ve been a legislator,” Hagan said.

He added that DNA evidence has found some death-row inmates innocent and leaves open the possibility that the state might have executed innocent people in the past.

“I am for life without parole, and I mean life without parole — not allowing someone out after 20 or 25 years,” Hagan said.

He said he supports the Supreme Court review of Ohio’s current laws and costs of the death penalty. That review won’t debate the law itself, though.

State Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Canfield, D-33rd, said he supports the study, and as it stands now without having reviewed specific legislation, he is “definitely in favor of keeping some sort of capital punishment on the books.”

“I don’t think that money should be the No. 1 priority. I think victim’s rights and defendant’s rights should be the first and second most important,” he said.

“I think about the victim’s family, and sometimes capital punishment is the only thing that may give that family the justice and closure they’re looking for. And you have to think about how to deter crime,” he continued.

Schiavoni stressed that the death penalty should only be an option for a small number of cases — “the most heinous, egregious, most clear-cut.”

State Rep. Ronald V. Gerberry of Austintown, D-59th, said he’s always been a strong supporter of capital punishment but said now is a good time to have a debate.

“I’ve sat back and watched literally millions of dollars spent to execute someone,” Gerberry said of the cost of litigation and appeals.

Gerberry said he can see both sides and will look to his constituents for guidance.

“I don’t know how my constituents feel. I will really intently listen to them on this issue. I don’t think it’s important how I feel; I think it’s important I represent their belief as a majority,” he said.

At the beginning of 2011, nine men were facing the death penalty in five aggravated-murder cases in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court. Since then, Shawn E. Davis, 26, of Compass West, Austintown, pleaded guilty to the murder of a 23-month-old girl and accepted a plea agreement to life in prison without parole to avoid the death penalty.

The others are still on trial or waiting for trial.

Many of those sentenced to die sit on death row at the Ohio State Penitentiary off state Route 616 — six miles from the house where Brown’s mother was strangled.

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