Ohio’s death penalty has seen an astonishing evolution


The evolution of the death penalty in Ohio is nothing less than astonishing. Five years ago, Ohio was second only to Texas with 10 executions in a single year. This year, Ohio did not carry out a single execution. The state has not executed an inmate since Jan. 16, 2014 when Dennis McGuire struggled and gasped for several minutes before succumbing to a combination of drugs being used for the first time in the United States.

Executions are not the only thing plummeting in Ohio. The number of capital murder indictments filed across the state since 2010 has dropped by 77 percent – just 19 capital indictments have been brought this year, reported the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

However, that is not entirely surprising. In Cuyahoga County, which has the second most capital convictions in the state, there is a change in philosophy.

In 2013, Cuyahoga County elected a new prosecutor. Tim McGinty is not only less likely to seek the death penalty but has written to the parole board on behalf of a condemned inmate declaring that under his leadership the office changed its approach to capital punishment.

McGinty alluded to the fact that a life sentence without the possibility of parole is now a sentencing option, though it was not 25 years ago when the inmate was convicted.

Since 2010, the number of inmates sentenced to life without parole has spiked 92 percent, according to the Plain Dealer. The Death Penalty Information Center’s statistics show that the number of inmates sentenced to death nationally has dropped 35 percent since 2010, when there were 114 death sentences. Last year, there were 73.

National trend

The Ohio numbers mirror a national trend involving the death penalty. Even though an October Gallup Poll showed that 61 percent of the public still supports the death penalty, executions are at a 25-year low.

America’s last execution occurred Tuesday night in Georgia. It was the 28th execution this year, nearly half the number carried out in 2009. The number of executions this year is almost the same as the number of fatalities from lightning strikes – 26 deaths by lightning.

It is an ironic statistic, as pointed out by National Public Radio, when the Supreme Court briefly banned the death penalty in 1972. Justice Potter Stewart, a former Ohioan, wrote “These death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual.”

The death penalty returned in 1976, and by the 1990s the number of executions soared – hitting a high of 98 in 1999 and ultimately totaling more than 1,400 – but executions tailed off dramatically after 2000.

The death penalty has been under siege. A number of states – Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Nebraska – have recently abandoned capital punishment. The governors of four other states – Colorado, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington – have imposed execution moratoriums.

New Hampshire abolished the death penalty this year only to have the state’s governor rally to have the matter placed on the ballot for voter consideration next year. If that is not strange enough, as lethal injection drugs become more and more scarce, some states are looking for alternatives to lethal injection. Utah is considering bringing back the firing squad. Oklahoma allows for the use of a firing squad if lethal injection is unavailable.

Missouri is considering the gas chamber, and the electric chair is still available in eight states and has been used recently in Virginia and Florida. Pennsylvania apparently has an ample supply of execution drugs, although the state hasn’t involuntarily executed an inmate in over 50 years.

Tumultuous procedure

Ohio’s execution procedure has been tumultuous. The state has used a three-drug, single-drug and two-drug protocol within the last half dozen years to carry out lethal injection – some with questionable outcomes. Ohio continues to strive for a lethal injection protocol that is painless, effective and efficient – good luck.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino

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