DeWine declines to comment on the latest effort to overturn Ohio’s death penalty

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — A bill to end the death penalty has been proposed many times in Ohio, and the one that was recently introduced in the Senate has more bipartisan support than any previous version. And while there are questions about whether it could pass this time, some also wonder if Gov. Mike DeWine would sign it.

A Death Penalty Bed with the straps fastened
[Statehouse News Bureau]
Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) and Sens. Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus), Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City) and Michele Reynolds (R-Canal Winchester) introduced the bill to abolish the death penalty in Ohio. Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said he doesn’t support it, but if there are the votes to pass it, he won’t stop it from coming to the floor.

DeWine was one of the sponsors of the death penalty law when he was a state senator in 1981, and defended Ohio’s use of it when he was attorney general. But since 2019, “there’s been no executions in Ohio since I became governor. I don’t anticipate there will be,” DeWine acknowledged.

But DeWine said that’s because Ohio only allows lethal injection, and drug companies have warned that if states use their drugs in executions, they risk losing access to those drugs for Medicaid and hospitals. DeWine hasn’t said that he’s opposed to the death penalty – just that he’s following the law. He’s asked lawmakers to decide what they want to do about capital punishment, and he said he’s waiting for the result.

“Look, this is an age-old debate about capital punishment, and I think at the appropriate time, I’ll have some more comments about it,” DeWine said.

Since taking office, DeWine has delayed the executions of 23 death row inmates, some more than once. But he has not commuted the death sentence of any of the 45 inmates who were on death row when he took office. Three have died in prison. James Frazier, who got the death penalty for killing a woman who lived in his Toledo apartment building during a robbery in 2005, died of COVID in 2020. Romell Broom, sentenced to die for kidnapping, raping and killing a 14-year-old Cleveland girl in 1984, also died of COVID in 2020. Broom had survived a botched execution in 2009. And Michael Webb, sentenced to execution for killing his three-year-old son in an arson fire in Clermont County in 1990, died of a heart attack in 2022.

One of the principal drafters of the death penalty statute that DeWine sponsored, retired Ohio Supreme Court justice Paul Pfeifer, has said since the law isn’t being applied as intended, it’s time to end it.