Factors that can lead to a death-penalty case, such as murders committed during robberies, burglaries or rapes, would be stripped from Ohio’s death penalty law to focus on the worst of the worst killers, under a recommendation by a task force studying changes to the law.
The proposal would limit capital prosecutions to cases involving multiple victims, killings of children under 13, slayings of police officers and crimes committed to eliminate witnesses, among other of the most serious factors, according to the proposal approved earlier this month by the Ohio Supreme Court committee.
The recommendation was based on arguments that elements such as kidnapping or burglary rarely result in death sentences — and when they do, they often carry the greatest risk of racial disparity among defendants.
Numerous Ohio inmates would never have gone to death row in the past 30 years had such a rule been in place, including five of the last 10 inmates put to death.
The proposal would eliminate kidnapping, rape, aggravated arson, aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary as factors that could lead to a death penalty. The result, supporters say, is a racially neutral law that targets the most heinous criminals.
“By removing these, you not only get rid of cases that are clearly not in society’s eyes the worst of the worst, you also remove the greatest racial influence in the death penalty,” said State Public Defender Tim Young, chairman of the subcommittee that made the recommendations.
The proposal’s chances are uncertain at best. Lawmakers would have to approve such a sweeping change, and it would likely face stiff opposition from death penalty supporters backed by local prosecutors.