CINCINNATI — Since Ohio resumed executions in 1999, the state has executed 56 people. Now, advocacy groups and a bipartisan group of state senators want to bring the number of future Ohio executions to zero.
Ohio State Senator Nickie Antonio announced legislation this week to abolish the death penalty, legislation she's pushed in every assembly since 2011.
"I believe we as a society must be better than the worst criminals and our flawed criminal justice system," the Democrat from Lakewood said at a press conference Wednesday. She promises to introduce the Senate bill and companion legislation for the Statehouse in the coming weeks.
Daniel Flynn, a board member of national Death Penalty Action, says now is an "absolutely critical time" to advance legislation ending capital punishment.
"The bill has bipartisan support, which we've seen work in a number of other legislatures across the country," Flynn told WCPO.
Executions are currently on hold in Ohio as the state struggles to settle on lethal injection protocol. Louis Tobin, the executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorney's Association, has suggested the state explore the possibility of using nitrogen gas to execute convicts.
Flynn, who works to end the death penalty across the country, says capital punishment is a costly and ineffective way to reduce crime.
“It has no deterring effects on crime,” Flynn said. “It’s disproportionally used on people of color, and where you commit your crime has a huge impact on whether or not you receive the death penalty, so there’s this geographic lottery that’s at play in the death penalty.”
But Paul Pfiefer, the former Ohio Supreme Court Justice who wrote Ohio's death penalty law, recently told WOSU Public Radio he thinks it will be hard to repeal. Ohio, which reinstated the death penalty in 1974, did not resume executions until 1999, and there are currently 143 prisoners on Ohio's death row.
Still, Flynn argues repealing the death penalty could save innocent lives.
"We’re never going to have a fool-proof way of insuring innocent people aren’t executed. And so, if we can’t do that there’s no compelling reason in my mind that we need the death penalty, especially with all of these problems that we have with it at the same time," he said.
Antonio, supported by Republican Senators Peggy Lehner (Kettering) and Kristina Roegner (Hudson), believes the bills will ultimately become law.
"Now the shift has taken place where there are more people in this country who oppose the death penalty than support it," Antonio said. "Absolutely, the public is on our side."