March 05, 2021

Ohio Death Penalty Repeal Bill Amasses Bipartisan Support Among Legislators and Ohioans

By Annika Russell, DPRP Intern

At a virtual press conference on Friday, February 18, a bipartisan, bicameral group of Ohio state legislators announced plans to introduce a bill to abolish the death penalty in Ohio.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Nickie Antonio (D – Lakewood), has introduced similar legislation in every General Assembly in which she’s served since 2011. At the press conference, Sen. Antonio said, “In the ten years that I have worked on this issue, I am pleased to announce that we are working with the strongest bipartisan team of members ever in the history of legislative offerings to abolish the death penalty in our state.”

Lead Republican sponsor, Sen. Steve Huffman (R – Tipp City), added, “My strong Catholic faith, combined with 30 years as a practicing emergency room physician, drives my belief that life should be valued. One wrongful conviction is one too many.” The Death Penalty Information Center reports, since 1973, there has been one exoneration for every 8.3 executions in the United States. This statistic is even more jarring in Ohio, where there has been one exoneration for every five executions in the state.

Legislators at the press conference were joined by representatives from Ohioans to Stop Executions (OTSE), Witness to Innocence, the Ohio Catholic Conference, the Ohio Council of Churches, and other faith leaders.

However, this repeal bill is not the first piece of legislation to signal Ohio’s changing relationship with the death penalty. In December 2020, Ohio became the first state to pass a law banning the execution of people who were seriously mentally ill at the time of their crimes. 

In the month following the passage of the mental illness bill, OTSE Executive Director Hannah Kubbins said, “The momentum to repeal the death penalty is at an all-time high. (...) This development has sparked more conversations about how Ohio can build a more equitable criminal legal system.”

On January 28, 2021, OTSE and the ACLU of Ohio released a statewide poll revealing that the current legislative efforts to end the death penalty are backed by broad popular support. The poll found that 59% of Ohioans support replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. The poll also highlighted the bipartisan nature of the support, finding that 69% of Democrats and 53% of Republicans support death penalty repeal.

Despite being a state that historically conducts a large number of executions, no person has been executed in Ohio since 2018. Current Republican Governor Mike DeWine has instituted an “unofficial moratorium” as a result of Ohio’s inability to procure lethal injection execution drugs.

“My thinking on the death penalty has certainly evolved,” Gov. DeWine said, when asked about his stance on the repeal bill. “But it is the law and as long as the law stays on the books it is something I would expect the General Assembly at some point to take up and I’ll certainly weigh in as they move a bill forward.”

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