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Growing bipartisan support in Ohio to eliminate death penalty

Virginia becomes 23rd state to end executions, Ohio could be next
Published: Feb. 25, 2021 at 8:36 PM EST
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - Ohio hasn’t executed a prisoner on death row since July 2018. Now, a bipartisan, bicameral group of state lawmakers hope that one was the last one.

Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) is spearheading a bill to eliminate the death penalty in Ohio. She’s introduced similar legislation several times since 2011.

“They’re the same reasons we talked about ten years ago, but now there’s a new team speaking to the issues,” Antonio said.

This time, she’s getting buy-in from a growing group of Republicans.

It comes as Virginia this week became the 23rd state in the country to stop executions.

She said other lawmakers are changing their long-held stance on capital punishment after years of conversations and deliberations. Antonio said she’s been told by leaders in the General Assembly that the bill won’t get looked over this year.

“There will be a deliberative process put forward to hear the merits of the bill,” Antonio said.

Her proposal would replace the death penalty with a punishment of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“We are not saying with this bill that people who commit heinous, horrific crimes, should walk away. Absolutely not,” Antonio said. “A life in prison without parole is a horrible way to have a life in front of you.”

Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) explains what made her begin her push to eliminate the death penalty in Ohio. She's...

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Among the key reasons for a growing number of Republicans supporting the bill, she believes, is the cost it takes to carry out an execution.

The ACLU of Ohio puts the price tag on death penalty trials at $16 million per case. There are 135 inmates on death row in Ohio.

“In this economic climate, is this something we really want to be paying for, when we could take those precious dollars and use them for the benefit of the people of Ohio?” she said.

A poll released last month by the ACLU of Ohio and Ohioans to Stop Executions showed 59% of those surveyed support replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. The groups, who lobby for the legislation against capital punishment, say the numbers show public support is growing to repeal executions.

Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Miami Township) is one Republican lawmaker who has changed their mind on the death penalty and endorses Antonio’s legislation.

“Over the course of my life, I have reevaluated this issue,” Schmidt said in a statement. “When I last served in this Chamber 16 years ago, I was an advocate for continuing the death penalty. A decade and half later – I truly feel, the time has come to end the death penalty in Ohio. I’m looking forward to discussing this important issue with my colleagues and constituents.”

Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, is another whose opinion on capital punishment has changed over the years.

He has not authorized an execution since taking office. In December 2020, he ordered that lethal injection is no longer a method the state can be used to put inmates to death.

Additionally, DeWine placed a moratorium on executions due to the pandemic.

“My thinking on the death penalty has certainly evolved,” DeWine said at a Feb. It is the law. As long as it’s the law, it stays on the books.”

He says he’ll weigh in more if the general assembly moves the bill forward.

The state currently has three inmates scheduled to be executed this year, including Timothy J. Hoffner. One of nine death row inmates sentenced in Lucas County, Hoffner was convicted in 1993 of murdering and burying the body of his roommate.

His current execution date is August 11, 2021.

This week, as Virginia became the 23rd state to eliminate the death penalty, Antonio says she’s cautiously optimistic that Ohio will be next in line.

“Every time an additional state comes online and says, ‘We’re not going to have the death penalty used in our state’ it gives me hope,” Antonio said.

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