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Published: Thursday, 4/10/2014

State task force protects mentally ill from execution

BLADE STAFF

COLUMBUS -- A state task force today released recommendations that would call for the mentally ill not to be executed under Ohio's provision calling for the death penalty.

The panel, named two years ago by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor and the Ohio State Bar Association, also calls for taking the death penalty off the table simply because a death occurred during the commission of a felony like robbery, kidnapping, and murder.

The task force wants to open to public view elements of the state's clemency process that now occurs behind closed doors.

Some of the requirements would require legislative action, far from a sure thing. Others could be accomplished through change in judicial rules adopted by the Supreme Court.

The death penalty itself was never on trial. A moratorium on carrying out executions during the review process was also not considered. Instead, the task force concentrated on the application of capital punishment in Ohio, when it would and would not be appropriate, the long-term preservation of evidence, and racial and geographic disparities in its implementation.

The 22-member task force--consisting of judges, legislators, prosecutors, law enforcement, defense attorneys, and academics--was not unanimous in support of all 56 recommendations. A separate dissenting report from some members, in particular prosecutors, is expected to follow.

Highlights of the recommendations include:

--Mandatory recording of interrogations of suspects while in custody.

--Taking the death penalty off the table for someone legally determined to be suffering "severe mental illness" at the time of the crime or at the time of scheduled execution. Court rulings have already found that executing the mentally retarded is unconstitutional.

--Removing the death penalty as an option simply because a death occurred during the commission of certain felonies--kidnapping, rape, aggravated arson, aggravated robbery, and aggravated burglary.

--Requiring jury pools to be selected from lists to registered voters and licensed drivers.

--Creation of a Capital Litigation Fund to pay for all costs for the prosecution and defense of capital cases.

--Prohibiting the death penalty in cases lacking biological or DNA evidence, a recorded voluntary confession, a video recording "conclusively" linking the defendant to the murder, or other factors as determined by the General Assembly

--Prohibiting the death penalty in cases where the prosecutor relied on jailhouse informant testimony not corroborated by other evidence.

--Requiring the Ohio Parole Board to record clemency hearings and its private interviews with condemned inmates with those recordings considered public record.

--Mandatory continuing education on racial bias for attorneys and judges involved in capital cases.



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