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Published: Tuesday, 4/22/2014 - Updated: 5 months ago

Report: State task force veers off course

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — A state task force created to examine the fairness of the application of the death penalty veered off course, according to a report released today that objects to some of the panel’s recommendations.

“A large number of the recommendations would establish a series of procedural and legislative nightmares that would render Ohio’s death penalty inoperable,” reads the minority report consisting of objections raised primarily from prosecutors.

“This, of course, is a result the Death Penalty Task Force was not even permitted to consider,” it reads. “Sadly, these recommendations have little to do with ‘fairness,’ the stated goal of the Task Force.”

RELATED CONTENT: Draft of Ohio Supreme Court's Report

RELATED CONTENT: Minority Report Draft

The body, created two years ago by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and the Ohio State Bar Association, is wrapping up its final report that will also include the objections of those who came out on the short end of votes for 56 recommendations the report will make.

Among the recommendations is taking the execution off the table as an option if the defendant was mentally ill at the time of the crime or at the time of his scheduled execution. It calls for the end of so-called “felony murder,” crimes such as aggravated robbery, kidnapping, rape, and aggravated arson that can come with the death penalty attached if the victim dies in the process.

The task force also wants to open up elements of the state’s clemency process to more public scrutiny and would remove the death penalty as an option if the prosecutor relied on a jailhouse informant whose testimony was not corroborated by other evidence.

The one thing not on the table for consideration by the 22-member task force under its original directive was the question of whether Ohio should have the death penalty in the first place. Nor was the panel permitted to consider a temporary moratorium on executions in the state while such a review took place, something proposed by the American Bar Association several years ago.

The dissenting report takes particular aim at the felony murder recommendation.

“Such victims suffer horrific deaths, oftentimes after prolonged kidnapping and/or rape, and the Task Force majority’s answer is to abolish the death penalty in such cases,” the minority report reads. “While such a proposal does not entail outright abolition in all cases, it is certainly anti-death penalty, an area supposedly off-limits to the task force.”

The majority of the task force pointed to studies showing the prosecutors and jurors do not find felony murder to be among “the worst of the worst murders” for which the death penalty is intended.

It noted that “such specifications result in death verdicts 7 percent of the time or less when charged as a death penalty case,” adding that “removal of these specifications will reduce the race disparity of the death penalty…”

The task force also looked at such things as long-term preservation of evidence, funding for the prosecution and defense in murder trials, racial bias, and geographic uniformity in decisions as to when to prosecute a murder as a death penalty case.

Some of the recommendations would require legislative action. Others could be accomplished by the Supreme Court through its judicial rules.

The panel also included judges, legislators, prosecutors, defense attorneys, members of law enforcement, and academics.

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


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