VOICES: ‘The quality of mercy is not strained’

“The quality of mercy is not strained… It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes… And earthly power doth then show likest God’s When mercy seasons justice.”

There are 128 prisoners on Ohio’s death row. A bipartisan effort is underway in the Ohio legislature to end the death penalty. Senators Steve Huffman, Michelle Reynolds, Nickie Antonio and Hearcel Craig have introduced legislation in the Ohio Senate to end state-sponsored executions. They point out the expense, the impossibility of finding drugs for lethal injections, and the possibility of executing innocent people warrant the end of the death penalty. These senators and these efforts are to be commended for speaking the plain truth about state sanctioned murder and trying to end it.

After conviction, and sentencing, it takes almost twenty years to execute a person sentenced to death. A death penalty case is much more expensive to try.

After sentencing, many appeals are available to a convicted person in the state system. The expense of all of this, including incarceration pending appeal, is estimated to be $3 million compared to a life sentence costing $1 million. The total cost to Ohio and its taxpayers in a year is estimated at $16 million dollars.

Getting legal drugs that work for executions is nearly impossible. The Death Penalty Education Center points out that until 2009, three drugs were used. An anesthetic, a paralytic, and a drug to stop the heart. Several states, including Ohio, resorted to a single drug, an anesthetic. In 2014, Dennis McGuire was to be executed using two drugs. After the drugs were injected, he writhed, gasped for air, and choked for ten minutes. During this time, he tried to communicate with his wife and children who were in attendance. He was finally declared dead after 25 minutes. In November 2017, Ohio tried to execute Alva Campbell by lethal injection. Guards could not find a vein in his arms and tried to insert a catheter in his leg. These efforts failed and Campbell died in prison four months later of natural causes. Is there a definition of cruel and unusual these botched executions do not meet?

Multiple accused have been found guilty and sentenced to death in Ohio who were, after many years, found innocent. There have been 92 exonerations since 1990 involving serious felonies, including murder. It is estimated that five prisoners on death row are innocent. Tyrone Noling was convicted in 1989 for murders in a town that he had never been to. One witness testified at his trial he had been coerced by the prosecutors to give testimony against Noling. He fought for access to the prosecutor’s file; discovered witnesses had recanted their testimony; there was no physical testimony linking him to the crime; and that his weapon was not the murder weapon. Noling even passed a polygraph; the police asked him to take that was inadmissible. After 20 years, Noling is still in prison.

In 1976, Gary Leeman was convicted of murder based on perjured testimony. He was acquitted in 1979. In 1985, Anthony Apanovich was convicted of the rape and murder of Mary Anne Flynn. He cooperated in a police investigation and DNA evidence shows he did not kill the victim. Dale Johnston was convicted of murder based on the testimony of a witness under hypnosis and a discredited expert. Johnston was released in 1990. Ricky Jackson, Wiley Bridgeman and Kwame Ajamu were convicted of murder based on the testimony of a thirteen-year-old. They were finally released in 2016.

With this bipartisan legislative initiative, Ohio could leave the company of China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, and others. Kudos to these Senators. It is time.

David Madden is a retired trial attorney, a mentor at the University of Dayton Law School and a spokesperson for the ACLU. He was an Infantry platoon leader and LTC in the JAG Corps.

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