This week marks a sad anniversary: In 1976, on July 2nd, the Supreme Court ruled in Gregg vs. Georgia that the problems that caused the death penalty to be abolished nationally just 4 years previously – that it was applied in an arbitrary and capricious manner – were resolved and that executions could resume. Since before that decision 40 years ago and afterwards, Ohio has had a storied history with the death penalty. What is the state of the death penalty 40 years later? IJPC Summer intern, Katie Jo Breidenbach, shares her thoughts and a timeline below.
Ohio has a beautiful motto: “With God, all things are possible”. We have constant news media reminders that those who represent us politically are in tune with their religious communities. I find myself questioning this motto as Ohio politicians have voted numerous times to sustain the death penalty. Catholic social teachings tell us that human life is sacred. Therefore, the death penalty demeans human life and is therefore wrong. Catholic social teaching surrounds itself with the concept of forgiveness and second chances. Some say that not everyone has the ability to change or rehabilitate, but even if that is true, do we not believe that every person should at least have the chance to try?
Time and time again, we are reminded that capital punishment does not work. The supposed purpose of capital punishment is to keep communities safe from people who are otherwise seen as a major threat to society. Lawmakers constantly remind the families of victims that if these cruel people aren’t put to death, even those within the prison system are at risk. The real question to be asked, however, is are we all truly at risk? There has been major discourse concerning the effects of the death penalty and whether or not it has made the states who have implemented it as safe as they were once told they would eventually be. A study presented by the Death Penalty Information Center proved that murder rates are exceptionally lower in states that do not have the death penalty as opposed to states that do (Death Penalty Information Center). Everyone wants to believe that where she or he lives is a safe place to be. So if Ohio’s method of keeping the “bad people” away is to kill them off and it obviously is not making us safer, wouldn’t it be smarter to use the tax money towards programs that have proven to be successful?
One of the largest contributing factors in considering the moral and ethical boundaries of the death penalty is what position it puts the victims’ families in. Although there are clearly families that feel the death of the person convicted of harming a loved one will bring them some sort of closure after their loss, many other families feel differently. The pain of losing someone close can feel unbearable, especially if given the information and evidence that they have been tortured or brutally murdered. Yet through many court dates and testimonies these families will re-experience their loss time and time again with the end result being another death of someone they just wanted out of their lives years ago. There are a plethora of examples of families who quickly realized that these so-called emotionless murderers do feel guilt or regret with the true goal of rehabilitation even if it means never leaving a correctional facility (The Intercept).
There is a large spectrum of opinions on alternatives to the death penalty. Some believe that execution is wrong, but a sentence of life in prison without parole is right. Others believe in the power of rehabilitation: that every person has good in them, and that it just takes time and compassion for them to show it. We may not all agree what is the “right” alternative to the death penalty, but deep down it is imperative to know the importance of compassion and forgiveness even if forgiveness feels impossible.
Timeline of the Death Penalty in Ohio
1803-1897: Those charged of actions that were deemed sufficient of the death penalty in Ohio would be publically hanged
1897-1963: Public hangings became irrelevant with the creation and implementation of the electric chair
June 29th 1972: Ohio abolished the death penalty as it was deemed unconstitutional through Supreme Court case Furman vs. Georgia. Supreme Court found the death penalty to be applied in an arbitrary and capricious manner
July 2nd 1976: The Supreme Court ruled in Gregg vs. Georgia that these problems had been resolved and that executions could resume nationally
1981: After tight restrictions on death penalty legislation, Ohio’s death penalty officially became legal. A bill was then passed giving those on death row the choice between electrocution and lethal injection as the method of execution seven days prior to their execution date
1999: Ohio death row executions began for the first time since the law was reinstated in 1976 with “volunteer”, Wilford Berry
2001: Governor Bob Taft pushed through legislation making lethal injection the sole form of execution in Ohio
2007: The American Bar Association evaluated Ohio’s execution procedures, ultimately finding they were failing on 93% of the standards
2011: The Joint Task Force to Review the Administration of Ohio’s Death Penalty was developed by Ohio Supreme Court Justice Maureen O’Connor
January 2014: Death row inmate Dennis McGuire suffered a painful 20-minute execution via lethal injection from a combination of drugs not used prior to this execution, making McGuire the third botched execution in Ohio’s history
April 2014: The Joint Task Force to Review the Administration of Ohio’s Death Penalty published their findings. These findings and lack of access to lethal execution drugs forced Governor John Kasich to extend Ohio’s moratorium until 2017