Ohio Supreme Court Justice O’Neill has made it clear that he will not grant a request to remove himself from Jeffrey Wogenstahl’s case. The judge explained:
“…it would be a violation of my oath of office to ignore my obligation to be part of the panel to decide this case. This is a death penalty case and both the Defendant and the citizens of Ohio deserve a review by the whole Court. Motion to recuse denied.”
The review to which Justice O’Neill refers will examine Jeff’s claim that his trial should not have held in Ohio, but in Indiana, where the victim’s body was discovered.
Separately, Jeff has asked the Court to consider another claim, that newly revealed flaws in his trial hair testimony, together with known, extensive prosecutorial misconduct, should entitle him to a new trial. The Court has not yet responded to Jeff’s memorandum concerning this second claim, but is aware that the Innocence Project wishes to support Jeff in this.
We now know that Justice O’Neill will help to review Jeff’s claim that he should not have been tried in Ohio. Prosecutor Joe Deters had asked the judge to remove himself from this review, because of his committed opposition to the death penalty. Justice O’Neill has steadfastly dissented from Court orders setting execution dates, including Jeff’s own; Deters believes the judge’s stance represents unacceptable bias. O’Neill, however, is within his rights; moreover, he feels that his judicial oath to uphold the Constitution obliges him to take this stand.
O’Neill’s opposition to the death penalty is echoed by some US Supreme Court judges e.g. earlier this week Justices Breyer and Ginsburg urged that court to consider “whether imposition of the death penalty constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.” And within Ohio many citizens share O’Neill’s view: when given choices, only 43% favored execution, with 40% opting for life without parole and 9% supporting life-sentencing.
It is only right and fitting, then, that Justice O’Neill’s views should figure in Jeff’s review. Joe Deters must comply.