Charles Lorraine has been on Ohio's death row for many years since being convicted of the 1986 murder of Raymond, 77, and Doris Montgomery, 80, in Trumbull County. Lorraine reportedly stabbed Raymond five times and Doris, who was bedridden, 9 times. He then ransacked their Warren home and used the money and personal items he stole to buy drinks for friends at a bar.
Lorraine actually was scheduled to be executed last month. But he was granted a stay, and now it is unknown when ... or if ... he will be executed after a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday to allow a temporary delay to continue. Lorraine's lawyers successfully argued the state's procedures for executing inmates might be unconstitutional. Until Ohio revises its lethal injection procedures to the satisfaction of a federal judge on the case, no more inmates will be executed, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine acknowledged (Cleveland.com):
DeWine said (the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections) was already revising its execution procedures even before the Supreme Court was asked to review Lorraine's case. And while the state was making changes, DeWine said he still sought to carry out Lorraine's execution because he didn't agree with U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost's ruling. "We believe that the discrepancies cited by Judge Frost do not rise to a constitutional violation," DeWine said. DeWine said when DRC completes its revision of the procedures he will present them to Frost, who must sign off on them before executions can resume.
So arguments over procedural matters have bought Lorraine and others on death row some time. But DeWine and his office will work to resume executions as soon as possible.
But should he?
Currently there are 34 states that practice capital punishment. Texas leads the nation in executions since the federal government reinstated capital punishment in 1976 with 478, including one this year. Ohio has executed 46 prisoners, all since 1999. There are 155 inmates currently on death row in Ohio. But there also have been 140 death row exonerations since 1973. That includes Joe D'Ambrosio of North Royalton, who was freed in March 2010 after spending more than 20 years on death row on a murder conviction.
Questions about the death penalty have some people wondering if Ohio needs to abandon the practice, including Ohio Supreme Court Senior Justice Paul Pfiefer. Pfiefer helped write Ohio's death penalty statute in 1981, but he argues it's not being applied as originally intended (Cleveland.com):
Murder is a vile crime. But not all murders are the same, and we did not mean for all -- or even most -- murderers to be eligible for the death penalty. The law was meant to be employed only when a certain set of aggravating circumstances warranted execution. But over the years, the death penalty has come to be applied more pervasively than we ever intended.
Pfeifer's position has resulted in a Hamilton County prosecutor arguing that Pfeifer should stop deciding death penalty cases. And John Murphy, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, says the state's death penalty statute is being applied to the right people:
All one need do is look at those who have been executed and those who are on death row to conclude that the death penalty is, in fact, being applied to some very nasty people who did some very nasty things. I don't know what Justice Pfeifer might have intended, but it seems to me that the death penalty is being applied to exactly those kinds of offenders whom most people would agree it should apply to. It is a disservice to the public to imply that the death penalty is being casually applied to ordinary cases. That just isn't so.
Pfeifer says the sentence of life without parole presents Ohioans with a viable option to the death penalty. Plain Dealer columnist Regina Brett sides with the justice, especially because of concerns about people being wrongfully put to death:
Across the country, we've seen over 100 men walk off death row because eyewitnesses lied or were mistaken, because the DNA didn't match, because police, prosecutors or lab techs made mistakes or mishandled evidence. ... Unfortunately, we can't find and fix every flaw in the justice system. Pfeifer is right. We need to do what Illinois did. Its House and Senate just passed a bill to abolish the death penalty. Ohio should do the same.
Last year, 10 Catholic church leaders in Ohio signed a statement urging the state to stop using capital punishment. The former director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction wrote a column last year in opposition of its use. Former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro also is raising questions about capital punishment, but he stops short of calling for a repeal:
When Petro campaigned for the state legislature, he said he believed in the death penalty. And when he supported the 1981 bill, he argued that the government should not bear the expense of incarcerating the most heinous criminals when they deserve to die. In short, he said that he believed the state would save money by adopting the death penalty and that the law would become a deterrent. "Neither of those things have occurred, so I ask myself, 'Why would I vote for it again?' " Petro tells me. "I don't think I would. I don't think the law has done anything to benefit society and us. It's cheaper and, in my view, sometimes a mistake can be made, so perhaps we are better off with life without parole." Opponents of the death penalty use arguments that include moral, ethical and constitutional concerns. Supporters use the same concerns, though, and there is no question that many relatives of murder victims feel justice is truly served through the death sentence. Family members of the victims of Cleveland serial killer Anthony Sowell applauded as he was led out of the courtroom after he was sentenced to death in August. A Gallup poll taken in October shows Americans favor capital punishment, with 61 percent for and 35 percent against. (Although that's down significantly from a high of 80 % for to 16 % against in the mid-1990s.) And Murphy says it's the only way to ensure a killer meets justice:
Justice Pfeifer goes on to argue for life without parole. What he doesn't mention is that no one can be sure that life without parole really means what it says. What the legislature does today, it can undo tomorrow. There is nothing to prevent the legislature from passing a bill abolishing life without parole and effectively reducing all the penalties to something much less. And, of course, there is always the governor's power to commute sentences. One stroke of the pen could lower the sentence or even set the prisoner free. There is only one way to guarantee that a prisoner will never be released.
(source: Cliff Pinckard, Cleveland.com)