American Bar Association calls for Ohio to cease executions until it fixes problems

9/24/2007
BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - Ohio should immediately stop carrying out executions until it fixes problems to ensure the state imposes the death penalty fairly and equitably, an American Bar Association study committee urged this morning.

Despite the best efforts of a multitude of principled and thoughtful actors who play roles in the criminal justice system in the state of Ohio, our research established that at this point and time, the state of Ohio cannot ensure that fairness and accuracy are the hallmark of every case in which the death penalty is sought or imposed, reads the study to be released this morning by the ABA s Ohio Death Penalty Assessment Team.

The team includes law professors, defense attorneys, former prosecutors, judges, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D., Cleveland), former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Craig Wright, and a state representative who has unsuccessfully championed legislation for such a study, Sen. Shirley Smith (D., Cleveland).

Among other issues, the team found that Ohio s justice system is 3.8 times more likely to impose the death sentence on someone who kills a white victim than a black victim, does not take adequate steps to preserve DNA evidence while a death row inmate remains behind bars, fails to record police interrogations or take steps to prevent faulty line-up identifications, and provides inadequate pay for lawyers defending indigent defendants.

Ohio is the seventh state whose death penalty processes have been studied by the ABA since 2003.

Ohio has carried out 26 executions since it resumed carrying out the death penalty in 1999, the most recent in May.

Death sentences should be reserved for the very worst offenses and offenders; however, the Ohio Supreme Court does not engage in a meaningful comparison of death eligible and death imposed cases to ensure that similar defendants who commit similar crimes are receiving proportional sentences, reads the study.

It s a hatchet job on our death penalty statutes, totally unjustified..., said John Murphy, spokesman for the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association. If there s one person identified as being a prosecution person, it s still heavily weighted the other way. It s a wish list for defense lawyers.

The study also questioned the impact of Ohio s judicial election process on the impartiality of judges when it comes to death penalty cases.

The nature of the judicial election and re-election processes has the potential to influence judges decisions in death penalty cases, the committee said. For example, numerous judges and judicial candidates have run advertisements touting their experience in death penalty cases, their support for the death penalty, and their being tough on crime .

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com, or 614-221-0496.

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