VOICES: “Day of Hope” insensitive and demeaning to victims

Two weeks ago, Ohio marked five years since the state last carried out an execution. Death penalty opponents celebrated this as what they called a “Day of Hope.”

A day of hope for who? This is shockingly insensitive and demeaning to the victims of Ohio’s most heinous crimes. It is also an incredibly tone-deaf thing to celebrate weeks after three children in Clermont County were slaughtered in cold blood by their father who now faces the possibility of a death sentence. These children and other victims of the murderers on death row had their own hopes permanently stolen from them through unspeakable tragedy.

It might have marked a day of hope for death penalty opponents. It might have marked a day of hope for legislators at the Statehouse, including some from Clermont County and neighboring counties in Southwestern Ohio, who are pushing to repeal the death penalty. It almost certainly marked a day of hope for the murderers on death row, and for someone like Chad Doerman, who will hope to escape the justice they deserve and to go on living. It was not a day of hope for the victims of these crimes, for Ohio prosecutors who seek to ensure that justice is carried out, or for the communities and families across Ohio who have experienced tragedy like the one Clermont County is experiencing.

The murders of three children is the most concrete example Ohioans could have of why we need the death penalty. Three kids who had their whole lives ahead of them were executed by their father who apparently had been planning the murders for months. Death penalty opponents argue that life without parole is punishment enough. But someone who commits one aggravated murder could already spend their life in prison. Without the death penalty what justice is there for a second murder victim, a third, or a fourth? Without the death penalty someone facing life in prison for one murder is free to kill as many additional people as they want without fear of additional consequences. Someone who murders one of their children can murder the second and third for free. That’s why we have the death penalty.

In some circles at the Statehouse there is a tendency to treat criminals as victims and to talk about the cost of the death penalty as if saving money is more important than the value of a victim’s life. It is this attitude that results in the demeaning “Day of Hope” for murderers on death row. Those who wish to repeal the death penalty should have to answer two questions in light of what happened in Clermont County: (1) Do you still support death penalty repeal and (2) If so, do you believe that reflects the values of your community or what your community would want if this tragedy had happened there?

The death penalty is society’s expression of moral outrage at the most heinous crimes. There are people at the Statehouse who want to take away your ability to express that outrage. We hope you will join us in calling on them to end this debate about repealing the death penalty. Join us in calling on them to stop treating criminals like victims. Join us in calling for debate about how to find a path to justice for the actual victims of these heinous crimes. Let’s provide them with hope that justice will be carried out.

Louis Tobin is the Executive Director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association.

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