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Published: Wednesday, 11/28/2007

Prosecutor belittles Ohio death-penalty suit

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Depending on where the lawyer sits in the courtroom, the American Bar Association's recent report attacking Ohio's death penalty was either a preordained "wish list of the defense bar'' or a reiteration of the obvious.

"The [death penalty] opponents are free to introduce a bill at any time for the death penalty's repeal, but they know it won't pass,'' John Murphy, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, said during a minidebate yesterday before the Columbus chapter of The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies.

He criticized the ABA report calling for a moratorium on executions across America as a one-sided attack written by a special committee stacked with defense lawyers and death-penalty opponents.

While Greg Meyers, chief counsel to the Ohio Public Defender, conceded the bar association should have done a better effort to create a more balanced study committee, he argued that the ultimate findings were nothing new.

"The sad thing about this report is that it is not surprising ,'' he said. "This is not novel, and as a result, it matters not who authored it.''

The study released in late September urged Gov. Ted Strickland, a former prison psychologist and death-penalty supporter, to halt executions until the state fixes flaws it argues makes the system unfair. Among numerous other things, the report found that:

•Ohio is nearly four times more likely to impose a death sentence on the killer of a white person than a black victim.

•Fails to record police interrogations of defendants that supposedly lead to confessions.

•Disproportionately applies death sentences based on where the crime occurred.

"I don't think it's fair to cast this report as abolition conspiracy,'' Mr. Meyers said. He argued the report was not a frontal assault on Ohio's execution law but rather on how it's been implemented.

He said lawmakers and prosecutors should not cringe at the thought of defendant interrogations and the statements of jailhouse snitches being recorded or a more in-depth look at potential racial disparities in the process.

Ohio revived the death penalty in 1981, but it wasn't until 1999 that it carried out its first modern-era execution.

Since then, Ohio has executed 26 inmates, most recently in May.

The pace, however, has slowed dramatically, not because of the ABA report but rather the announcement of the U.S. Supreme Court that it will hear a challenge to the constitutionality of the lethal-injection process.

A similar case is pending in federal court in Ohio, and a number of inmates who faced imminent execution have joined that lawsuit and had their executions delayed.

"I think every nook and cranny and jot and twittle of the statute has been litigated, litigated, and litigated over the intervening 26 years,'' Mr. Murphy said. "Lo and behold, the statute remains essentially intact. And now, a quarter of century later, here comes the American Bar Association and tells us our death-penalty statute is woefully inadequate.''

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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