Ohio’s top judge calls for death penalty review

From: Houston Chronicle
By Andrew Welsh-Huggins (AP)
Thursday, September 8, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio’s top judge on Thursday announced a committee will review the state’s death penalty law and determine if changes should be made, but with an important caveat: It won’t debate whether Ohio should have capital punishment.

The review, 30 years after Ohio enacted its most recent death penalty law, will make sure the current system is administered fairly, efficiently and in the most “judicious manner possible,” said Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor.

“Is the system we have the best we can do?” said O’Connor, a Republican and a former prosecutor. “Convening persons with broad experience on this subject will produce a fair, impartial, and balanced analysis.”

The 20-member committee, convened by the Supreme Court and the Ohio State Bar Association, will consist of judges, prosecuting attorneys, criminal defense lawyers, lawmakers and academic experts.

After years of Democrats calling for such a review, as well as a moderate Republican colleague of O’Connor on the Supreme Court, it took the former prosecutor with a tough criminal justice reputation to put such a process in place.

House Democratic lawmakers tried four times in previous legislative sessions to create such a review, with success only once when conservative Republicans who oppose abortion and capital punishment joined them.

That provision lasted exactly one day, until the GOP-controlled Senate killed the idea.

Justice Paul Pfeifer, a Republican from Bucyrus, has called for such a review for years. In January, he made even stronger comments, saying the state should abolish capital punishment.

Pfeifer, who helped write the 1981 law as a state senator, has said for years he believes prosecutors were seeking the death penalty in cases such as domestic violence slayings that the law wasn’t meant for. Pfeifer said Thursday he was glad to hear O’Connor’s announcement but had no further comment.

O’Connor made it clear Thursday in the annual speech given by chief justices that the review won’t debate the law itself.

Instead, it will review Ohio’s current laws, practices elsewhere, data and costs. It will also review a 2007 report released by the American Bar Association that called for a moratorium while problems the report said it had identified were examined.

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