Ohio’s Death Penalty: Flawed Public Policy

It is clear that Ohio’s lawmakers have no wish to mend the state’s flawed death penalty system. An OTSE (Ohioans to Stop Executions) report* has outlined how “abysmal” the efforts of Ohio’s leaders have been in bringing about change to a structure in which “the only interest served is that of Ohio prosecutors”.

In April, 2014, an Ohio Supreme Court Task Force made 56 recommendations for changes in the capital punishment process. Of these, only 4 have been approved; moreover, their content is extremely limited in addressing unfairness.

6 more recommendations are under consideration, 4 of which are contained in Senate Bill 139. This bill has been weakened following the intervention of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association and the Attorney General’s Office, who introduced changes that impede transparency.

Most worryingly, the Task Force recommendations with the greatest potential to reduce injustice and bias in Ohio’s death penalty system have not yet been discussed in any legislative forum.**

Jeffrey Wogenstahl’s is one of the death penalty cases hindered by the state legislature’s unwillingness to abandon the status quo. His case is of particular concern, having suffered from very similar problems to the Ohio death penalty exonerations listed in the OTSE report: Jeff’s case was blighted by official misconduct, perjury, implausible snitch testimony, false forensic evidence and flimsy eyewitness testimony.

Given the many signs of wrongful conviction in Jeff’s case, it seems unimaginable that his appeals were dismissed by court after court until, finally, he was assigned an execution date. Fortunately, that date was stayed by the Ohio Supreme Court earlier this year to allow him to claim that he should not have been tried in Ohio.

Nonetheless, the report lists Jeff’s execution date as September 13, 2017 – exactly a year from today. This reflects information in the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction’s Execution Schedule, which, bizarrely, still displays an execution date for Jeff, despite his stay of execution date and re-opening of direct appeal.

The OTSE report concludes:

“Ohio’s death penalty system must be abandoned. Thirty-six years of administration of such a flawed public policy is more than enough. Ohio can make its criminal justice system better for victims’ families, its law enforcement agencies, its courts and its citizens by removing the ultimate penalty.”

We agree. It is time for Ohio’s prosecutors to relinquish the advantages that benefit them, and them alone. The death penalty must die.

*A Relic of the Past: Ohio’s Dwindling Death Penalty 
**For examples of such significant recommendations, see A Relic of the Past: Ohio’s Dwindling Death Penalty, pp 13 -14.
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