After 24 executions in eight years, capital punishment appears to be at a crossroads in Ohio.
The state`s annual Capital Crimes Report issued yesterday by Attorney General Marc Dann`s office reflected mixed signals from 2006:
Five executions took place last year but only four new death sentences were issued statewide. The next scheduled execution is James Filiaggi`s on April 24.
Twenty-two cases ? including three from Franklin County have been inactive in state or federal courts for at least two years.
A lawsuit challenging Ohio`s use of lethal injection as unconstitutional, cruel and inhumane punishment has been filed by 10 Death Row inmates. An additional 19 inmates have filed mental-retardation claims, seeking to avoid execution under a 2002 ban by the U.S. Supreme Court.
DNA testing has become increasingly important in both convicting and exonerating inmates. Jerome Campbell of Cincinnati had his sentence commuted by then-Gov. Bob Taft to life in prison after DNA results proved it was his own blood, not the victim?s, on his tennis shoes.
Barry Scheck, co-director of the New York-based Innocence Project, said the number of death verdicts nationwide dropped dramatically in recent years. His 20-year-old group is poised to record its 200 th exoneration through DNA testing. Six have been in Ohio.
"That?s in no small measure because the general public, through these DNA exonerations, is questioning the death penalty," Scheck said.
Officials in New York, New Jersey, Maryland and other states are debating capital punishment, as much from a public-policy standard as a moral issue, Scheck said.
Ohio?s capital-crimes report is required by law to be sent by the attorney general to state officeholders and legislative leaders annually by April 1.
Not cited in the report was the X-factor Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat who backs capital punishment but seems open to studying its use.
One significant category is the number of cases classified as "notable." Those cases have been in the same court for at least two years and been essentially inactive for at least a year.
The notable cases list has slowly increased from 16 in 2004 to 21 in 2005 and 22 this year. Most are in federal courts.
By far, the longest-delayed case is that of Daniel Bedford of Hamilton County. It has been locked in federal court 14 years.
The three stalled Franklin County cases are Kevin Scudder`s (seven years), Mark Burke`s (six years) and Kareem Jackson`s (three years).
Overall, the number of death sentences handed down in Ohio is declining, from 13 in 2003, four in 2004 and seven in 2005 to four last year. There were fewer than 100 death sentences nationwide last year.
Of the 24 inmates executed since 1999, two-thirds were white, the average age was 45 and the average time on Death Row was 14 years.