Local legislator again plans bipartisan push to end death penalty in Ohio

Republican Huffman among group introducing legislation; Ohio’s had no executions in years, largely due to drug issue

Tipp City Republican state Sen. Steve Huffman and a group of fellow legislators are again trying to abolish the death penalty in Ohio.

Huffman, Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, Senate Assistant Minority Leader Hearcel Craig, D-Columbus, and Sen. Michele Reynolds, R-Canal Winchester, announced Friday they will hold a press conference Tuesday to lay out the new legislation.

Huffman, who is a physician, has introduced similar bills in the past with a group of legislators. House Bill 183 and Senate Bill 103, companion pieces of legislation, were introduced in their respective committees in March 2021, but failed to gain traction.

Huffman said in an interview with Dayton Daily News on Friday his opposition to capital punishment stems from both moral and financial grounds.

“It costs about three or four times more to put somebody on death row than it does to put them in prison for life without parole,” he said.

Huffman noted the cost of the death penalty during sponsor testimony when SB 103 was submitted in 2021, at the time referencing a 2014 Dayton Daily News investigation that found Ohio’s death penalty system costs the state about $16.8 million a year, and incarcerating inmates for life is considerably cheaper than executing them.

According to a 2021 study by the ACLU of Ohio, death penalty trials cost taxpayers as much as $16 million per year. The ACLU opposes capital punishment, as the agency claims it “violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment, is administered arbitrarily and unfairly, and fails to deter crime or improve public safety.”

Huffman said his religious beliefs also contribute to his stance.

“As a devout Catholic, I believe there’s only one being that should get to decide if you live or die and that’s God,” he said. “We as a government, and judges, should not make that decision.”

Huffman pointed out that capital punishment is “an imperfect system” that is not immune to error.

“There have been a number of people who have been exonerated from death row and let go,” he said.

The same ACLU of Ohio study found that for every five people the state of Ohio has executed, one person has been found innocent. Ohio is home to 11 death row exonerees who collectively spent 216 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, the study shows.

It’s important to consider the loved ones of the victims involved in death penalty-related crimes, too, Huffman said.

“Many of the families find it hard to get closure when someone is sentenced to death, and they will often have to relive the crime year after year when attending appeal hearings,” he said. “Some would prefer a life sentence so that it ends for them and they can have some type of closure rather than continuing to talk about whatever horrendous thing that was done to their family member.”

Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association Director Robert Cornwell said the agency has historically taken the position that the death penalty does serve as a deterrent to crimes like murder. But Cornwell declined to comment specifically on whether the association supports or opposes the current bill set to be introduced.

“We never support, oppose, or monitor any legislation that we haven’t had a chance to look at,” he said Friday, adding that any such position would be decided after a bill is formally introduced.

Huffman said he intends to continue the effort to abolish the death penalty for as long as it takes.

“We believe in (this legislation) and we’re going to keep going until it becomes law,” he said.

Ohio has not conducted any executions since 2018, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. In late 2020, Gov. Mike DeWine called an “unofficial moratorium” on capital punishment in the state.

“Lethal injection appears to us to be impossible from a practical point of view today,” the governor said at the time.

In February 2022, DeWine reprieved three inmates who were scheduled for execution that year, citing “ongoing problems involving the willingness of pharmaceutical suppliers to provide drugs to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.”

Their executions are now slated for 2025.

About the Author