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New "Stronger Voice" Fights to End Ohio's Death Penalty

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Ohio is one of 28 states that still has the death penalty, but that could change. (Adobe Stock)
Ohio is one of 28 states that still has the death penalty, but that could change. (Adobe Stock)
 By Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH - Producer, Contact
February 19, 2021

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio lawmakers from both parties and in both chambers are joining forces on a bill to abolish the death penalty in the state.

Sen. Nickie Antonio said she'll introduce legislation to replace execution as a punishment for murder with a sentence of life without parole. The Lakewood-area Democrat worked on a similar bill last year, but called this a much more robust push.

"We're saying the same things we've said in the past," said Antonio. "But we're saying them with a stronger voice."

Since 1976, eleven innocent people have been exonerated after death sentences in Ohio, including Kwame Ajamu. He was on death row nearly three decades before being freed in 2014.

"Ending the capital punishment in the state of Ohio would be like pulling a thorn out of my eye," said Ajamu. "Putting my blood into my heart to pump freedom in life."

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, public support for the death penalty is at its lowest in a half-century. Ohio is among the 28 states with capital punishment, with 141 people on death row.

The bill hasn't been introduced yet, so it hasn't been assigned a number.

State Sen. Kristina Roegner - R-Hudson - is among four Republicans who will co-sponsor the bill. She said she favored capital punishment early in her career, but has since realized it doesn't reflect her faith.

"The more I thought about it, I'm like, 'You know life is sacred. It's sacred from conception to natural death,'" said Roegner. "And I've done a lot of work on the front end of that equation; there's certainly work to be done on the back end, too."

Columbus-area Democratic Rep. Adam Miller recently served in Afghanistan as a Rule of Law Director with NATO U.S. Forces. He said that experience taught him to view abolishing the death penalty as a matter of national security.

"It's a huge problem when we finally capture the worst of the worst on the battlefield, but we cannot get extradition," said Miller. "Because there are too many U.S. states that have the death penalty and our allies are bound not to work with us."

Ohio has not conducted an execution since 2018. Gov. Mike DeWine said there's an unofficial moratorium until legislators find an alternative to lethal injection.

This story was produced in association with Media in the Public Interested and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.

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