Sunday, 13 January 2008

Governor should halt executions

Jan. 13 OHIO: Governor should halt executions Ohio and other states that kill death row inmates with chemical injections are delaying executions until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of the method. But Gov. Ted Strickland has more reasons than this to declare a moratorium on executions in Ohio. The Repository urges him to do so. The Kentucky case before the high court presents a legal test for Ohios method of execution. But Ohios system of trying death-penalty cases itself has been found wanting. Strickland should halt executions until he can thoroughly review and act on two studies that have reached this conclusion. The Associated Press reported in 2005 on its study of more than 1,900 capital indictments since Ohio reinstated the death penalty in 1981. AP found that the ability of defendants to plea-bargain depended in large part on which county they were tried in, and on how much the county paid their defense lawyers. AP also found that defendants who are accused of killing white people are twice as likely to be sentenced to death in Ohio than defendants who are accused of killing black people. Two years after APs study, a panel of 10 legislators, law professors and judges conducted a 30-month review of Ohio death-penalty cases that again found serious disparities based on geography and race. Their study also found inadequate representation by attorneys and insufficient review of cases by appeals courts. As a result, the American Bar Association urged Strickland to halt executions. The governor has not done so. But there should be no question about how seriously he takes his responsibility as a court of last resort for death row inmates. Just last week, Strickland commuted to life imprisonment the death sentence of John Spirko, who was convicted in a 1982 murder despite lack of physical evidence connecting him to the crime. Strickland said he could not ignore the slim residual doubt created by the fact that Spirko had both confessed to and denied involvement in the killing of a postmistress in northwest Ohio. And two days earlier, Strickland had seen Kenneth Richey freed from more than 20 years on Ohios death row after the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned his conviction for a 2nd time, saying his defense lawyer failed to adequately defend him at the original trial. Strickland has said he supports capital punishment, as do a majority of Ohioans. That is not the issue. The issue is whether Ohios justice system consistently has done its utmost to ensure fair trials when the outcome is a matter of life or death. Two studies say no, it has not. Strickland should halt executions until he can confidently say otherwise. (source: Editorial, Canton Repository)

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