Fix Ohio’s broken system of capital punishment now

Please find the 2023 Capital Crimes Report from Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost here.

Readers of true crime stories should waste no time in accessing Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s “2023 Capital Crimes Report,” a compendium of chilling, shocking and disturbing cases of the worst of the worst bloodlust offenses in the Buckeye State over the past four decades.

The 424-page report, released last week by the state’s top legal officer, hits close to home in its opening pages. They present a harrowing narrative in excruciatingly painful detail of the cold-hearted murders of Esther Cook and her daughter Ashley Dawn Cook in their Warren home shortly before midnight on Oct. 31, 1999. Stanley Adams beat and stabbed Cook, and beat, raped and strangled Ashley.

Adams was convicted in October 2001 and sentenced to death in 2004. Twenty years later, in one of this state’s many disheartening miscarriages of justice, Adams remains alive and well in the Chillicothe Correctional Institution, a poster boy for Ohio’s broken system of capital punishment.

Adams is one of 119 inmates on death row, including 11 from Trumbull and Mahoning counties. On average, those inmates have spent 21 years awaiting their well deserved date with death. Contributing to that increasingly prolonged delay is a moratorium placed on executions by Gov. Mike DeWine over the inability of Ohio and most other states to use safe execution drugs for lethal injection.

Since the state’s current capital punishment law was adopted in 1981, only 56 of some 341 death sentences have been carried out. In the past five years, zero executions have taken place. That’s a disturbing track record, particularly for families of victims and others seeking long-delayed delivery of juries’ well-reasoned verdicts.

Yost offers some poignant perspective on this plight: “The bottom line: Ohio’s death penalty is a farce and a broken promise of justice — and it must be fixed.”

We agree and once again call on members of the Ohio General Assembly to resolve this dilemma. Members could opt, as several other states have done, to adopt an alternative form of capital punishment.

Toward the end, Yost joined state Reps. Brian Stewart, R-Ashville, and Phill Plummer, R-Dayton, as they introduced legislation in January that would direct state officials to use nitrogen hypoxia for executions if lethal injection is not feasible.

Those lawmakers introduced House Bill 392 less than a week after Alabama became the first state in the country to execute someone by that method. The legislation deserves a full, fair and prompt hearing in the House Government Oversight Committee to determine if it may be the right fit for Ohio.

Further, legislators could act to limit the number of permissible appeals for convicts who repeatedly abuse the criminal justice system. Danny Lee Hill of Warren, for example, has been on death row for 39 years for raping, torturing and murdering a 12-year-old boy and has filed more than 25 appeals in his successful effort to delay death. So far, that strategy has worked just fine for him.

The other option, of course, would be to abolish executions. Two bills in the Legislature — Senate Bill 101 and House Bill 259 — aim to accomplish that. Those bills, however, have been languishing in legislative committees for over a year.

We fully realize this issue is highly divisive, with Ohioans and Americans carrying very strong and differing beliefs. However, doing nothing is not the answer. And from our perspective, that’s exactly what Ohio’s Legislature has done. Frankly, it appears state House and Senate members have lacked the political will to fix what Yost most accurately calls “a broken system.”

If for no other reason, lawmakers should act in the name of fiscal responsibility. A state estimate shows death sentences have cost Ohio taxpayers up to $384 million to care for and carry on seemingly never-ending legal casework for death row inmates. Some estimate the cost of caring for death row inmates is five times higher than the cost of care for those sentenced to life in prison without the chance for parole.

Another major reason to act promptly defies dollars and cents. The emotional turmoil endured by families seeking justice for decades for their murdered loved ones is compounded by the seeming lack of any hope in sight for closure.

Dozens and dozens of examples of such family anguish can be gleaned from the pages of the attorney general’s “2023 Capital Crimes Report.” That powerful and damning report should serve as a call to action for responsible state legislators to finally act to end this state’s great farce. That action is needed now.


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