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The death penalty costs Ohio hundreds of millions of dollars. It hasn’t been used in years

A bipartisan group of lawmakers have introduced a bill to repeal the death penalty in Ohio
Posted at 5:49 PM, Apr 14, 2023

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio's death penalty program costs the state hundreds of millions, but it hasn't been used since 2018. A bipartisan group of lawmakers is ready to pull the plug.

It's failed for 12 years, but advocates have renewed hope that capital punishment will end in Ohio with a new bill at the Statehouse.

Ohioans to Stop Executions Executive Director Allison Cohen continues to come back to the Statehouse year after year to try to end what she and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost call a "broken system."

"I think that the exciting headline here for this new bill, Senate Bill 101, is just how much the bipartisan support has grown for repealing the death penalty," Cohen said.

Senate Bill 101 would ban the death penalty. It was introduced by state Sen. Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City) and Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood).

"So in Ohio, we have 11 death row exonerees," Cohen added. "That means that we've gotten it wrong 11 times — we feel like one time is just too many."

Fifty-six people in Ohio have been executed by the state in the past 40 years, meaning for every five executions that have taken place, one person has been exonerated.

The punishment draws out the legal process for victims' families, forcing them to deal with appeals for years, she said. It also disproportionately impacts people of color. Plus, it is incredibly expensive for the state.

"As a Republican and a fiscal conservative — if you want to save money, say $20 to $30 million a year, you would vote to abolish the death penalty," Huffman, a doctor, told News 5.

Huffman explained that the 128 people currently on death row add up. The cost to the state is between $128 million to $384 million, according to data from the nonpartisan Ohio Legislative Service Commission.

More than just about the cost, the death penalty goes against his principles, he said.

"I think that my underlying doctrine of the Catholic faith is that there should be one being that decides if we live or die, and that's the Lord," he added.

The lawmaker has reintroduced the legislation, joining Democrats and a growing number of Republicans. But someone close to him disagrees.

Opposition

"I'm opposed to the bill, and I have been throughout... the time I've been in the General Assembly," Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima), an attorney, said.

Huffman, the bill sponsor's cousin, supports capital punishment.

The Senate leader and others in law enforcement argue that the death penalty is only used in specific, heinous circumstances.

"We didn't get justice for the families," said State Rep. Phil Plummer (R-Dayton), former sheriff of Montgomery County, about someone getting life in prison instead of the death penalty. "Because the taxpayers are feeding him three times a day and giving them top-rate medical care."

A recently-released report from the attorney general’s office shared that the top cop has mixed feelings about the current system.

AG Report

Yost, seemingly most annoyed that an immense amount of money is being burned every year despite there being no executions, claimed the "broken capital punishment system" is a "testament to government impotence."

"This system satisfies nobody. Those who oppose the death penalty want it abolished altogether, not ticking away like a time bomb that might or might not explode. Those who support the death penalty want it to be fair, timely and effective," Yost said. "Neither side is getting what it wants while the state goes on pointlessly burning through enormous taxpayer resources."

He asked for capital punishment to become an effective tool for justice or to eliminate it altogether. Right now, the system is moving at a "glacial pace."

The average number of days on death row is 7,592.30, which is 20.78 years, he reported. The average time on death row of a person executed is 6,280 days, which is 17.19 years.

Not all of the blame can be put on the lawmakers. Gov. Mike DeWine postponed executions, saying getting the lethal injection drugs isn't possible right now.

DeWine, when he was in the Statehouse, helped draft the current death penalty legislation that is in effect. In recent years, he has spoken out against it. His team declined to comment on how he is feeling about S.B. 101 this time around.

DeWine issues reprieves

The governor has delayed the executions of three death row individuals.

On Friday, DeWine announced that "due to ongoing problems involving the willingness of pharmaceutical suppliers to provide drugs," he would be moving James O'Neal, Jerome Henderson and Melvin Bonnell's executions date from this year to 2026.

Pharmaceutical companies have taken a stand against the death penalty and have threatened to not supply any medication to states that use their drugs for lethal injections, according to past statements by DeWine.

Moving forward

Pres. Huffman said that even though he doesn't want the bill, he will move it forward if enough people in the Senate will vote for it.

For Cohen, that's all she can ask for from the leader at this point.

"I am hopeful that this is the time that we're going to see the shift," Cohen said.

The bill has not had any hearings yet.

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.