COLUMBUS – The death penalty is in a long, slow decline in Ohio and nationally, according to opinion polls and how often it’s being used.
Surveys show support for the death sentence is at a 40-year low, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, and last year saw the lowest number of executions in two decades. He said people are seeing practical problems with putting people to death, including the costs and botched executions. There also has been what he called an innocence revolution – a wave of death-row inmates later proved not guilty.
“DNA has shown people have gone to death row who clearly didn’t commit the offense,” Dunham said. “Innocent people are being convicted. There are false confessions; there are fabricated confessions. That’s causing people concern.”
Death-penalty supporters argue that harsh justice is a deterrent to crime.
The last execution in Ohio was of convicted murderer Dennis McGuire in 2014. Executions were put on hold after McGuire appeared to suffer for 26 minutes before dying. The state recently announced the delay of all executions until 2017 as it searches for hard-to-acquire drugs needed for lethal injection.
Dunham said there used to be the misconception that if a capital convict was not executed, he or she eventually could be released on parole. Court rules were changed, he added, so that juries are now informed that a life sentence would really mean life behind bars.
“Immediately when the juries were told that their sentencing option was life without possibility of parole and death, as opposed to just life or death, the rate of death sentencing dropped dramatically,” he said.
Dunham said FBI figures, confirmed by several studies, show the death penalty doesn’t deter crime in any measurable way.
“There actually is no demonstrable effect at all,” he said. “In fact, murder rates are higher in states that have the death penalty than in states that don’t have the death penalty.”
More information is online at deathpenaltyinfo.org.