Panel: Report swayed by anti-death penalty group

By Marc Kovac | R-C Capital Bureau Published:

COLUMBUS - Prosecutors who served on a panel that studied Ohio's administration of the death penalty say final recommendations were "strongly influenced" by groups that want to abolish capital punishment in the state.

In a 49-page minority report of the Joint Task Force to Review the Administration of Ohio's Death Penalty, dissenting members say some of the law and policy proposals likely would mean an end to death sentences in Ohio.

"Some of the recommendations would tie the death-penalty system up in knots, creating procedural and litigative traffic jams that would potentially tie up particular cases in litigation even more than is already occurring," dissenting members wrote.

The minority report is to be included with the task force's final report, with more than 50 recommendations for capital punishment changes, including limits on the death penalty for those who are seriously mentally ill or that rely on the testimony of jailhouse informants.

The members added, "While the task force majority has embraced anti-death penalty and delay-inducing proposals, it has rejected proposals that would take the blinders off sentencing judges and juries to allow a full and fair assessment of the appropriate sentence in a capital sentencing proceeding, including rejecting a proposal that would have allowed consideration of victim-impact evidence."

A majority of the group's members also wants to remove several crimes from the list of specifications used in determining whether to pursue the death penalty and require clemency hearings and parole board interviews with death row inmates to be recorded and made available to the public.

The recommendations were not unanimously endorsed by members of the task force, however. Prosecutors requested and received approval to write a minority report, voicing concerns about the potential impact of some of the recommendations.

For example, the task force is urging that the death penalty only be considered or imposed in cases where there is biological or DNA evidence, a confession, recorded evidence that definitively links a defendant to a crime or other factors offered by the general assembly in developing related law changes.

Prosecutors say that change is "ill-advised ... All things considered, here experience verifies common sense. Timothy McVeigh, perhaps the most notorious mass murderer in recent history, would not have been eligible for a capital sentence under the majority's proposed criteria."

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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