Ohio Justice Reverses Position On Capital Punishment

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Justice Paul Pfeifer covered a lot of issues in his speech after being sworn in for the fourth time to his seat on the Ohio Supreme Court, including the status of Ohio’s constitution, campaign finance reform, and a somewhat surprising concern: “This is a delicate one, it is one where again I will probably chart a lonely course to being with – is the death penalty.”

It’s surprising to hear Pfeifer talk about the death penalty – because he’s largely credited with creating the capital punishment law three decades ago. But now, Pfeifer says, he’s concluded that it is exceedingly difficult for the law to be administered in a fair and just way.
“Don’t misunderstand me. There are no nice people on death row. They all committed heinous crimes. But every murder is a heinous crime.”

That’s the conclusion that Terry Collins has come to as well. Collins saw 33 executions during his time in the top levels of the state’s prisons department, which ended with his retirement as director last year.
“Whether you agree or disagree with the death penalty, I think it’s time that we look at the facts of life without parole. And I think sometimes people get confused about life sentences and life without parole – that somebody would get out of prison. And the fact is, with life without parole they can’t get out of prison.”

Collins says he doesn’t like to talk about money in the context of the death penalty, but mentions that typically, it’s more expensive to litigate death penalty cases than to house an inmate for life. And he says the families of victims are put on emotional roller coasters with last minute stays and court action that delay scheduled executions. And Collins says the inmates themselves need to be considered – and whether this ultimate punishment is the right thing for the right person.
“I’ve always said that we need to incarcerate the worst of the worst. But were the worst of the worst the ones who got the death penalty?”

Among the anti-death penalty activists celebrating these comments from the creator of the death penalty law and the man who helped carry it out is the state’s public defender.
“I don’t see the irony. I see the wisdom.”

Tim Young is charged with defending death row inmates, and says the death penalty law just isn’t fair to people regardless of race or socio-economic status.
“Massive disparity. Just for example, last year Cuyahoga County was responsible for just over 60% of all death penalty indictments in the state of Ohio. One county, which only has 11% of the population. Its prosecutor uses it as a bargaining chip, apparently, in most homicides to bring that many.”

And because Pfeifer says the law isn’t fair to everyone, Gov. John Kasich should consider commuting the sentences of the 157 people on death row…
“And I think it’s time for Ohio to at least entertain the discussion whether we are well-served by having a death penalty.”

When the governor’s spokesman was asked about that, he replied: “Governor Kasich supports the death penalty.”

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