Hamilton County, Ohio, is where Jeffrey Wogenstahl was sentenced to death for a murder that he says he did not commit. An interactive map showing all US counties now confirms Sister Helen Prejean’s words:
“Hamilton County kind of stands out.”
Counties on the interactive map are colored blue if they have produced at least one death sentence between 1991 and 2017 (the darker the blue, the more death sentences). Hamilton County stands out as the darkest blue in Ohio.
Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, believes the approach of local prosecutors is the single biggest factor in whether someone convicted of murder is assigned the death penalty.
What is less clear is whether prosecutorial misconduct has increased death penalty convictions and sentences in the county. Certainly Hamilton is one of two Ohio counties highlighted in 2006 by Jeff Gamso, former legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio:
“Prosecutorial misconduct — now you’re talking. Hamilton County and Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) lead the pack there. God knows they lead the pack for sheer number of cases of prosecutorial misconduct…”
So we ask again, was the prosecutorial misconduct experienced by Jeff – and by three other death-sentenced individuals – contained in isolated incidents? Or do those cases reveal systemic problems with death penalty administration in Hamilton County? And is that partly why Hamilton County is such a dark shade of blue?