Ohio

Ohio

INNOCENCE: Former Death Row Inmate to be Exonerated in Ohio After 39 Years

Former death row inmate Ricky Jackson will be formally exonerated on November 21 in Ohio, after spending 39 years in prison. A judge in Cleveland will dismiss all charges against Jackson, with the prosecution in agreement. Jackson is one of three men convicted of the 1975 murder of Harold Franks. The other two defendants, Ronnie and Wiley Bridgeman, were also sentenced to death and have filed a petition for a new trial, but that petition has not yet been resolved. Jackson's death sentence was vacated earlier, and the Bridgeman brothers' sentences were overturned when Ohio's death penalty was found unconstitutional in 1978. The men were convicted on the testimony of a 12-year-old boy who later recanted his testimony, and who now has said he did not witness the crime at all. Several people confirmed the boy was on a school bus at the time of the crime. No other evidence linked the men to the murder. A gun and car seen at the crime scene were linked to a man who was arrested in 1978 for another murder, but he was never charged in Franks' murder. In dropping the charges against Jackson, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said, "The state is conceding the obvious." Ricky Jackson will be the 148th person exonerated from death row in the U.S. since 1973, the fifth in 2014, and the seventh in Ohio since 1973.

Proposed Ohio Lethal Injection Secrecy Bill May Be Unconstitutional

The Ohio legislature is considering a bill that would prevent the public and the courts from knowing the name of compounding pharmacies that produce lethal injection drugs for the state and the identity of medical personnel participating in executions. Critics of the bill say such interference with the courts and the First Amendment right to free speech would be unconstitutional. At a committee hearing, Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association, said, "This bill likely will prompt endless litigation – a precise situation you are trying to avoid." Similar secrecy laws in Pennsylvania, Missouri, Arizona, and Oklahoma are being challenged in court by media organizations. The non-partisan Legislative Service Commission also raised constitutional concerns about a provision of the bill that would void any contract if it had a clause prohibiting the sale of lethal injection drugs to the state, saying that could violate state and federal prohibitions against impairing contracts. Ohio State University law professor Doug Berman questioned whether the state should go to such lengths to preserve lethal injection: "If the only way we can preserve this method of execution is by making it more secret, that, to me, is something of a sign that we shouldn't be trying to preserve this method of execution."

NEW VOICES: Judge Calls Ohio Death Penalty Costs 'Astronomical'

County Judge Michael P. Donnelly, a member of Ohio's Death Penalty Task Force appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, recently called the costs of capital trials "astronomical." He went on to say that a county's budget may be a factor in decisions to seek the death penalty: “[W]ith 88 different prosecutors who have complete discretion on whether to pursue it or not, and you have to draw the inference that, in some counties, it’s not pursued because it’s just not economically feasible.” For example, Summit County is facing a 15% overrun of its court indigent defense budget because of five cases in which prosecutors sought the death penalty this year. The most recent capital trial cost the county $102,715, lasted nearly two months, and ended in a sentence of life without parole. Court officials said an aggravated murder case without death penalty charges typically costs $15,000 to $20,000 and lasts only two weeks. The judge added, “There’s no way you can look at the way [the death penalty is] applied in Ohio and draw the conclusion that it’s fair, or that it’s accomplishing what it purports to do — and that is, deliver the most severe punishment to the worst of the worst. It’s just not taking place.”

NEW VOICES: Former Ohio Attorney General Now Opposes Death Penalty and Calls for Reform

Jim Petro served as Ohio's Attorney General and presided over 18 executions. However, he abandoned his support for capital punishment after seeing the risks of wrongful executions: "Our justice system is based on the decision-making of human beings, and human beings are fallible. We make mistakes and our judgments are influenced by biases and imperfect motivations. Implementing the death penalty makes our errors permanent and impossible to remedy." Recently, he called on the Ohio legislature to adopt the reforms recommended by a Task Force appointed by the state Supreme Court, saying, "Without action the death penalty system will continue to be an expensive, unfairly applied, and risk-filled process that has no place in today's criminal justice system." He asked the legislature to require the recording of interrogations, certification of crime labs, and guidelines for prosecutors seeking the death penalty.

Ohio Had Warnings About Lethal Drugs; State's Expert Witness Withdraws

After Ohio's two-hour attempted execution of Rommel Broom (pictured) in 2009, it explored alternative methods, including an intramuscular injection of midazolam and hydromorphone. Gregory Trout, an attorney with the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction expressed concerns to Dr. Mark Dershwitz, the state's expert witness on lethal injections, about whether these drugs would result in “gasping for air in a hyperventilating fashion, with eyes still open,” and whether it “would create the appearance, at least, of suffering, which would upset witnesses and inspire litigation.” Dr. Dershwitz said such reactions were unlikely. However, Dr. Mark Heath, an anesthesiologist at Columbia University, warned the drugs could create “a terrible, arduous, tormenting execution that is also an ugly visual and shameful spectacle.” Ultimately, the drugs were not used intramuscularly but rather injected into the veins of Dennis McGuire in January 2014, resulting in a prolonged execution in which the prisoner struggled and clenched his fists for an extended period. The same drugs were used in the recent two-hour execution of Joseph Wood in Arizona. Dr. Dershwitz, who had served as an expert on lethal injection for 22 states and the federal government, recently withdrew from further involvement as an expert because Ohio had mischaracterized him as a "consultant."

Anesthesiologist Calls Ohio Execution "Inhumane"

The lethal injection of Dennis McGuire in Ohio in January "was not a humane execution," according to Dr. Kent Dively (pictured), a San Diego anesthesiologist who examined records related to the execution, which took nearly 30 minutes to complete. Dr. Dively made the statement in an affidavit related to a civil rights suit filed by McGuire's children. McGuire was the first person in the country to be executed using a combination of midazolam and hydromorphone. Dively stated, "Neither of these drugs combined in the doses used can be depended upon to produce a rapid loss of consciousness and death." He continued, "Mr. McGuire was noted to be straining against his restraints, struggling to breathe, and making hand gestures. More likely than not these represent conscious voluntary actions by Mr. McGuire. They exemplify true pain and suffering in the several minutes before he lost consciousness." He also noted that Ohio's execution protocol states that all executions will be carried out in a "professional, humane, sensitive, and dignified manner," and said the state failed to meet its own standards: "These drugs do not fulfill the criteria set forth by the state of Ohio. They do not provide for an execution in a professional, humane, sensitive, and dignified manner. Allowing the inmate to suffer for a prolonged period struggling to get free and gasping for air before death certainly is not dignified nor humane." He recommended the state "reconsider the drug combinations they are currently employing. Otherwise other inmates in the future could suffer egregious inhumane deaths like Mr. McGuire."

Federal Judge Bars Ohio Executions for 2014

On August 8 U.S. District Judge Gregory L. Frost ruled that no executions may be carried out in Ohio until at least January 2015. The court's ruling lengthened a previous moratorium imposed because of problems with the state's lethal injection protocol. Judge Frost said he extended the stay of executions “in light of the continuing need for discovery and necessary preparations related to the adoption and implementation of the new execution protocol." Three executions, which had been scheduled for the remainder of 2014, and one in early 2015, have been stayed. In January, the execution of Dennis McGuire in Ohio took over 25 minutes, with witnesses reporting that McGuire gasped, choked, and appeared to struggle against his restraints. The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction announced in April that it would use larger doses of the same lethal injection drugs in future executions, but Judge Frost stayed all executions until at least mid-August. The state's proposed dosage was the same as that used in the recent botched execution of Joseph Wood in Arizona.

Ohio Supreme Court to Hear Romell Broom Appeal

The Ohio Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal from Romell Broom (pictured), whose execution was halted in 2009 after correctional officers spent two hours trying to insert an IV for a lethal injection. Broom was pricked 18 times during the attempted execution. The court will decide whether further attempts to execute Broom would violate double-jeopardy rules or the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. "Romell Broom has a constitutional right not to be subjected to more than one execution attempt under the circumstances present in this case including the fact that significant psychological and physical pain have already been inflicted on him in a first attempt," his lawyers said. A federal judge recently suspended all executions in Ohio until at least August 15, 2014, in order to allow a review of the state's new execution protocol. The protocol was changed after the botched execution of Dennis McGuire in January. 

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