Columbus — Opponents of capital punishment urged Gov. John Kasich to postpone the state’s scheduled executions and commute the death sentences of Ohio inmates to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Ohioans to Stop Executions and other like-minded groups also want lawmakers to move legislation barring death sentences for the mentally ill and implementing additional supports for the families of murder victims.
“You need not execute dangerous offenders in order to feel safe from them or hold them accountable,” said Abraham Bonowitz, a spokesman for Ohioans to Stop Executions. “As the courts are still sorting out Ohio’s execution protocol, I want to make it clear that Ohioans to Stop Executions does not take a position on how we kill our prisoners. Our concern is that we kill prisoners in light of the many problems that exist with the morality, the fairness and the accuracy of Ohio’s capital punishment system.”
The groups had planned to protest the execution of Ronald Phillips, who was sentenced to die for the 1993 rape and murder of a 3-year-old girl in Akron.
He was supposed to face lethal injection on Thursday, but the procedure was postponed until Feb. 15. Ohioans to Stop Executions and others instead gathered Thursday at the Statehouse to call for an end to the death penalty and to visit lawmakers to discuss the issue.
There are seven other executions scheduled through the end of this year and two dozen other dates set through 2021.
KaExecutions in Ohio have been on hold since the lethal injection of Dennis McGuire in January 2014. McGuire, who received a capital sentence for the rape and murder of a pregnant Preble County woman, gasped for breath during what witnesses described as a prolonged procedure under the state’s former two-drug execution method.
In early 2015, state prison officials abandoned that combination, switching to two different drugs, though that protocol has not been used.
The state and others have struggled to find supplies of execution drugs, after manufacturers blocked their use for lethal injections. State law changes have since enabled the purchase of drugs from compounding pharmacies, under legislation that allowed the names of those businesses to be kept secret.
And pharmacy logs released by state prison officials late last month show sufficient supplies of lethal injection drugs on hand for coming executions.
Last year, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction announced it would restart executions in 2017, using a new three-drug combination that was similar to the method the state relied on for past executions.
During meetings with lawmakers’ offices Thursday, capital punishment opponents urged passage of legislation implementing recommendations of a Supreme Court task force that studied ways to improve the administration of the death penalty.
“We have been saying fix it or end it,” Bonowitz said. “… It’s pretty clear that few Ohio legislators want to concern themselves with this issue. We will keep pushing on the reforms… Our mission is to end executions in our state once and for all. That is our goal, and we will achieve it.”
Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.