There are 34 states that still allow capital punishment, but some attract more attention from anti-death penalty activists than others. Texas finds itself in the limelight with some frequency, since it leads the nation in sheer numbers of executions. Alabama upset a lot of people when it executed a mentally disabled man in September of 2010. Ohio didn’t use to come up that often—it was considered reasonably “good at” applying the death penalty, which I mean to sound ridiculous—but that’s changed.
I wrote recently about the Charles Lorraine case. No one disputes that Mr. Lorraine is guilty of murder; he was convicted of killing an elderly man and his bedridden wife in 1986. But a federal district court judge, Gregory Frost, halted his execution earlier this year because Ohio has had trouble following its “execution protocol”—basically the rules say one thing and it does another. That violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause, which made Judge Frost grumpy. “This case is frustrating,” he said. “Ohio has been in a dubious cycle of defending often indefensible conduct, subsequently reforming its protocol when called on that conduct, and then failing to follow through on its own reforms.”
The 6th circuit upheld Judge Frost’s decision in January and on Wednesday, the Supreme Court denied an application to vacate the stay, effectively putting all executions in the state on hold.
Ohio won’t necessarily join the 16 death-penalty-free states any time soon; Attorney General Mike DeWine has said he’ll work to resume executions as soon as possible.
But the Lorraine case is drawing attention to the cause. Mr. Lorraine is actually one of several death row inmates suing Ohio, and Judge Frost has consolidated their challenges so that the whole death-penalty system is under scrutiny, not just one case.
The Cleveland Plain-Dealer ran an article on Thursday questioning the wisdom of Mr. DeWine’s determination, asking whether Ohio would be better off simply abandoning the practice.
A few prominent Ohioans have come out against the death penalty. Terry Collins, a former director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction who personally observed the execution of 33 men from 2001 to 2010, called the death penalty “expensive, often inefficient and always time-consuming” in a January op-ed for the Columbus Dispatch.
Justice Paul Pfiefer of the Ohio Supreme Court, who helped write the state’s death penalty statute in 1981, told state lawmakers in December that “Ohio is no longer well served by our death-penalty statute. It should be repealed.” He said that “the death penalty in Ohio has become … a death lottery. The application is hit or miss depending on where you happen to commit the crime and the attitude of the prosecutor in that county.”
The “death lottery” formulation is a powerful one — in Ohio and far beyond its borders.
(source: New York Times)