It’s time to make our justice system more equitable. It’s time to make our justice system less barbaric. It’s time to end the death penalty, in Ohio and nationally.
This was brought home in Ohio on Jan. 16 with the suffocating execution of Dennis McGuire. It took 20 minutes for McGuire to die as he was gasping for breath.
The state used an experimental cocktail of drugs that had never before been used in a lethal injection. It resulted in the state’s fourth botched execution in a decade. And the state, in its wisdom, has five more executions scheduled this year using the same combination of drugs or, perhaps, experimenting with other combinations, essentially using humans as guinea pigs.
Two weeks after the torture of McGuire, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the federal government would seek the execution of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the accused bombers at last year’s Boston Marathon where three people were killed and 264 wounded.
I get the desire for retribution. McGuire was convicted of doing horrible things. Tsarnaev is accused of doing horrible things. Does that excuse the government doing a horrible thing?
Two wrongs, the ancient wisdom tells us, does not make a right.
Aside from the moral problem associated with state-sanctioned murder, there are very practical reasons to eliminate the death penalty.
Perhaps the most important is its unequal and arbitrary application.
An October report by the Death Penalty Information Center demonstrates that the death penalty is used largely by 2 percent of the counties in the United States: “Only 2% of the counties in the U.S. have been responsible for the majority of cases leading to executions since 1976. Likewise, only 2% of the counties are responsible for the majority of today’s death row population and recent death sentences.”
Why would a murder in one county in a state merit the death penalty while a murder in another county in the same state not?
The 2 percent statistic is even more troubling when you look at the record in some of those counties, which also have some of the highest reversal rates. For example, Maricopa County in Arizona had four times the number of pending death penalty cases as Los Angeles or Houston on a per capita basis. The district attorney responsible for this aggressive use was recently disbarred for misconduct. During the tenure of one district attorney in New Orleans, four death row inmates were exonerated and freed because of prosecutorial misconduct.
If that does not trouble you, then the number of exonerations nationwide should.
2013 was a record-breaking year with the National Registry of Exonerations recording 87 cases in which innocent convicts were exonerated, some having served many years behind bars.
Since the group began keeping records in 1989, there have been 1,304 exonerations identified through Feb. 3. Of those, 31 percent were in cases where no crime was even committed. The 2013 cases include a man who was sentenced to death 30 years ago. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Reginald Griffin was the 143rd person exonerated from death row in the United States since 1973.
One can’t avoid the math. It is likely innocent people have been executed.
Then there is the cost.
Despite what many Americans might believe, it actually costs more to execute an inmate than it does to lock them up for life without parole. In Ohio, it costs the state about $25,000 a year for an inmate. Death penalty cases, which can drag on for years, can reach into the millions of dollars. And the decision to expend those millions of dollars often rests with a single person, the prosecuting attorney, who is only answerable to the voters of that county while the costs are often felt by everyone in the state, even those living in counties where the death penalty is never sought.
When a county prosecutor decides to seek the death penalty, he or she alone is deciding whether a few hundred thousand dollars should be spent or millions of dollars should be spent. And if that inmate is already serving a life sentence without parole for some other offense, the decision to spend millions of dollars more just to execute him or her is simply reckless.
Meanwhile, because a growing number of drug companies are refusing to have their drugs used for executions, some states are considering reverting back to the electric chair or firing squads. Who knows, we may soon see hangings on the courthouse lawn. Then we will be even more like the other countries in the world who still kill prisoners, beautiful places such as Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.
More than half the nations on Earth have abolished the death penalty as have 18 states and the District of Columbia. It’s time for the other states and nations to follow suit and end this barbaric practice.