Ohio now has execution dates for 24 people, which is more than any other state. The dates stretch ahead far into 2019, a shameful list of scheduled barbarity.
In setting execution dates long in advance Ohio piles on the torture, forcing inmates to spend months or years contemplating the hopelessness of their fate. Even Texas, with its high execution rate, does not allow execution dates to be set beyond three months ahead.
As the list grows, so does the risk of executing innocent men. Of the nine men already exonerated from Ohio’s death row, eight feature in the National Registry of Exonerations,* which analyses factors in wrongful convictions since 1989. For the Ohio men, the common denominator noted is official misconduct: all eight suffered from this. Official misconduct is extremely difficult to prove; the eight are fortunate to have done so. How many of those on the list of scheduled executions have not been as fortunate?
Jeffrey Wogenstahl’s case illustrates the difficulties: federal Judge Karen Moore described the prosecutorial misconduct in his case as ‘plain and plentiful’, yet because of the ‘stringent AEDPA standards that currently apply’ he has been unable to win his appeals.
Writing about the so-called “harmless error rule”, which requires a court to uphold a conviction when it believes the evidence is sufficient to support it, even if there’s been clear misconduct, Bennett Gershman declared last week:
“This perverse rule essentially tells prosecutors that their misconduct will not be evaluated according to legal or ethical standards. Rather, they can play the odds that an appellate court will ignore their misconduct as long as the remaining evidence is enough.”
With this system in place, Jeff is unlikely to be alone in finding his claim of innocence impossible to prove.
Governor Kasich is as yet unmoved by arguments against the death penalty, believing the justification to be achieving closure for victims’ families. Such evidence as there is suggests that he is misguided. For instance, most of those related to the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing now regret their original push for the death penalty.
Capital punishment was abolished 50 years ago in Great Britain. As the Guardian recalls:
“Decades ago politicians called for judicial killing to be brought back. No longer… [t]he reign of the death penalty is over in Britain. It’s now a relic of a more violent age, a time when wrongdoers were whipped, put in the stocks or transported to distant countries for penal servitude…. Britain has fallen out of love with judicial killing, recognising its arbitrariness, inherent cruelty and sheer excessiveness.”
It is only a matter of time before Ohio reaches the same conclusion. For the sake of the twenty-four men scheduled to be executed (and their families, friends, supporters, lawyers and prison staff, who will become victims if the men are killed) we hope this conclusion is reached very soon.