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Death penalty debate rages



Published: Sat, April 5, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

COLUMBUS

Attorney General Mike DeWine released his annual snapshot of the state’s administration of the death penalty last week.

It came amid continued questions in Ohio and nationally about lethal injections, as states scramble to find alternate sources for the drugs they use to put inmates to death.

Ohio was in the international spotlight earlier this year following the execution of Dennis McGuire, who reportedly struggled for breath during a January lethal injection that involved a previously untried drug combination.

State prison officials remain tight-lipped about McGuire, saying only that a formal review is ongoing.

And they cite “pending litigation” if you ask them questions about how they intend to put the next inmate to death, refusing to acknowledge any efforts to find a source for their preferred execution drug.

But DeWine’s Capital Crimes Annual Report provides a decent review of Ohio’s execution history to date. It includes explanations of the sentencing process and details of inmates who received the ultimate penalty for their crimes.

You’ll find a copy online at www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov. Here’s a quick summary:

There have been 53 executions in Ohio since the state restarted the death penalty in the late 1990s. Wilford Berry was the first on Feb. 19, 1999. McGuire was the last, on Jan. 16 of this year. A total of 316 people have received death sentences since 1981.

The average age of inmates executed in Ohio was about 45. Nineteen were black, and 33 were white. All were men who spent an average of more than 16 years on Death row.

Inmates who have been executed to date killed 65 adults and 19 children.

Since 1991, 18 inmates have had their death penalties commuted, starting with Debra Brown in 1991. Gov. John Kasich granted clemency to Ronald Post in December.

More than two dozen Ohio Death row inmates died before their sentences could be carried out. The most recent was Billy Slagle, who committed suicide in August, days before his scheduled lethal injection.

Half a dozen inmates are awaiting resentencing for their crimes. That list includes Donna Roberts, who received the death penalty for her involvement in the murder of her former husband in Howland.

In the last year, four men received capital sentences and were moved to Ohio’s Death row. There are a dozen executions currently scheduled through early 2016, with four more requests submitted for lethal injection dates. The next execution is scheduled for May, for Arthur Tyler, who was convicted in the 1983 murder of a Cleveland man. His clemency hearing is later this month.

There’s a national ban on executions of inmates who are mentally retarded. There were four Death row inmates with cases on that issue pending in state courts last year.

Among them was Warren Spivey, who was convicted of brutally beating and stabbing a Youngstown woman in 1989 before stealing her car and jewelry.

Eight other inmates were ruled ineligible for the death penalty after courts determined they were mentally retarded.

Marc Kovac is The Vindicator’s Statehouse correspondent. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog


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