Ohio lawmakers announce GOP-supported effort to end death penalty

Credit: Andrew Welsh-Huggins

Credit: Andrew Welsh-Huggins

A new plan to ban capital punishment in Ohio reportedly has bipartisan support, including some area Republicans who are involved in the effort.

The backing of some GOP lawmakers to do away with executions in Ohio isn’t new, with numerous bills to abolish the death penalty over the years garnering some Republican support. Even former GOP House Speaker Larry Householder questioned last year whether capital punishment’s time had come. But previous efforts have always fallen short.

Backers of the new push include Republican Sens. Kristina Roegner of Hudson in northeastern Ohio, Niraj Antani of Miamisburg, and Michael Rulli of Salem in northeastern Ohio, and House GOP Rep. Jean Schmidt of suburban Cincinnati.

Repeal backers believe growing skepticism about capital punishment, along with the state’s current moratorium driven by an inability to find lethal injection drugs, provides fresh momentum.

"There is a team right now that is dedicated to ending the death penalty in Ohio," said Sen. Nickie Antonio, a Lakewood Democrat and longtime sponsor of bills to end the death penalty, including a similar, unsuccessful effort in November.

Antonio plans to co-sponsor the latest bill with GOP Sen. Steve Huffman of Tipp City. The first-term Republican said he’s evolved to oppose the death penalty both as a doctor and a person of faith. He cited the cost to taxpayers of years of appeals, the lack of available lethal injection drugs, and the danger of executing an innocent person. As an alternative, life in prison is a terminal sentence, he noted.

“Human life is precious,” Huffman said. “It's not the role of the government to end the life of the citizens.”

Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, a former state supreme court justice, said the House has yet to discuss whether to eliminate the death penalty.

“I believe there is an appropriate place for the death penalty. It’s reserved now really for the worst of the worst and if there is some room to narrow that down even more, we could do that,” Cupp said on Thursday.

Cupp noted that Ohio does not have access to lethal injection drugs used to carry out executions and the state may consider other methods that are being looked at by other states. When asked if thinks Ohio should consider firing squads or the electric chair, Cupp declined to specify which alternatives should be considered.

Last month, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed a bill into law banning the execution of the severely mentally ill, including killers diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder or delusional disorder at the time of their crimes. Backers of the effort announced Thursday point to that law as an example of changing anti-capital punishment sentiment.

Republican Senate President Matt Huffman — Steve Huffman's cousin — said he is a death penalty supporter willing to allow the legislative debate.

“It’s an important criminal justice discussion, especially in light of the fact that the governor has indicated that he will not move forward with any of the executions unless the General Assembly comes back with a different way of it being done,” Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican, said Wednesday.

In the meantime, Ohio remains under an unofficial death penalty moratorium. DeWine said in December that lawmakers must choose a different method of capital punishment than lethal injection before any inmates can be put to death in the future, and added that it's "pretty clear" there won't be any executions this year.

Before and after that, DeWine has continued to delay multiple executions.

Three executions are scheduled in Ohio this year beginning in August, though the likelihood of those being carried out is low. The state's last execution was July 18, 2018, when Ohio put to death Robert Van Hook for killing David Self in Cincinnati in 1985.


Contributing to this report was Farnoush Amiri, a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

Credit: Al Behrman

Credit: Al Behrman