Death penalty proposals draw heat

Prosecutors say recommendations would ‘tie system in knots.’

Prosecutors are pushing back on a report that calls for the most sweeping changes in Ohio’s death penalty system in three decades, saying the task force behind the recommendations was “strongly influenced by a pro-defense majority.”

A panel of 22 judges, law professors, attorneys and other experts issued its final report Wednesday on ways to improve the capital punishment system in Ohio. The 76-page report, which comes after two years of study and debate, is being sent to the Ohio General Assembly to consider the recommended legal changes.

The task force was charged with steering clear of the question of whether Ohio should have capital punishment and stick to issues of fairness and administration.

Prosecutors and others who served on the panel said in a blistering 56-page dissent that the report embraces anti-death penalty and delay-inducing proposals.

“Some of the recommendations would tie the death penalty system up in knots, creating procedural and litigative traffic jams that would potentially tie up particular cases in litigation even more than is already occurring,” the dissenters said.

But retired 2nd District Appellate Court Judge James Brogan, who chaired the task force, said if lawmakers and policymakers implement the recommended changes, the administration of the death penalty will be improved in Ohio.

The group made 56 recommendations, including;

  • Require in custody interrogations be recorded in full or presumed involuntary;
  • Bar execution of defendants who suffer from serious mental illness at the time of the crime or the execution;
  • Prohibit the death penalty in cases that lack biological or DNA evidence, a videotaped confession, video that conclusively links the defendant to murder or other factors;
  • Improve the qualifications of lawyers representing defendants facing the death penalty;
  • Require county prosecutors to seek approval from a death penalty charging committee run by the attorney general before they're allowed to seek capital punishment.

“A large number of the recommendations would establish a series of procedural and legislative nightmares that would render Ohio’s death penalty inoperable,” according to the dissenting opinion, which was authored by Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien and Deputy Attorney General for Law Enforcement Stephen Schumaker.

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor in a written statement: “Thoughtful Ohioans of good will may disagree on whether we should have the death penalty, but no one can disagree that as long as Ohio does have a death penalty we should have the fairest and most reliable system possible. I will study this report very closely, and I know that the governor and the members of the General Assembly will also.”

The report is expected to generate heated debate in the Legislature later this year and into the following legislative session.

Ohio adopted its current death penalty statute in 1981. It has executed 53 men since executions resumed in 1999.

Ohio made international headlines in January when it reportedly took 26 minutes to execute rapist-killer Dennis McGuire using a new, previously untested drug protocol.

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