By Steve Herbold
CMF supports abolishing the death penalty. Ignite Peace, which we support and collaborate with, has been active for a long time walking with death row inmates and witnessing when executions occur. Thankfully, Ohio has abandoned any executions through Governor DeWine’s executive action until a humane method is developed.
According to Ignite Peace’s Bekki Baker, the next governor replacing DeWine, who is term limited, could immediately resume executions. Ohio has entered into discussions to abolish the death penalty, but the legislation is tied up in committee.
Only six states have recently held executions: Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas. Texas has conducted the most by far. Twenty-three states have abolished the death penalty, and nine states, including Ohio, have suspended them. Only four “first world” democracies -- Japan, Singapore Taiwan, and the U.S.-- apply the death penalty regularly.
The use of the death penalty as a punishment for capital crimes has had considerable back and forth. President Trump reinstated it as an option in 2020, and two executions were conducted that year. President Biden’s Attorney General, Merrick Garland, put a moratorium on death penalties promptly after assuming his role., However, I read recently the Buffalo mass murderer, Payton S. Gendron, whose shooting was racially motivated, is likely to get the death penalty.
Of course, one of the most obvious justifications for death penalty abolition is wrongful convictions and executions. Statistically, it is estimated that nearly 10% of death row inmates are innocent. The Innocence Project has an extensive track record of freeing all types of prisoners largely due to DNA evidence. Cases that result in the death penalty mostly result from three factors: the nature of the crime, the zealousness of the prosecutor, and inept defense attorneys. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters leads the state in issuing death sentences. Race is certainly a major factor in whether a person gets the death penalty, African Americans make up about 14% of our population but 43% of death row inmates.
Thanks to CMF member, Clair Hochstetler, we have connected with Elwood Jones, who served 27 years on death row but is now out on bond. Elwood’s case and story have been quite moving. He has been free for a year, but the Hamilton County Prosecutors’ Office has not abandoned retrying the case. Elwood’s attorneys were denied access to information that the prosecutors had, among other irregularities. Elwood might have been released several years earlier but Covid delayed the process.
The district court ruled that Judge Wendy Cross’s ruling to throw out the conviction can stand, but an appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court is pending. Appointed State Supreme Court Judge Deters is recusing himself because he was the prosecutor on the original case. Elwood worshipped with us recently and asked us individually to email Hamilton County Prosecutor Powers on his behalf.
Another aspect of our justice system that bears notice is the charge of felony murder. This involves charging someone for murder if he or she is part of a group where a murder occurs. That person didn’t pull the trigger, didn’t have a gun and may not even have been at the actual murder scene. In most of these cases, a conviction carries a life sentence, not the death penalty. In over 80% of these cases, the defendant is a person of color.
Many states have enacted laws prohibiting felony murder charges, including California, Illinois, Minnesota, and New York. European countries have also banned it. However, many Southern stated have expanded its reach to include people who help women get abortions by providing transportation or medication.
The death penalty issue is closely linked with promoting justice in our society. We can help locally by lobbying Ohio representatives to support the bill to abolish. We will also continue to collaborate with Ignite Peace and their continued efforts to ban the death penalty. And we will continue to support for Elwood Jones in his quest for justice....