Report says death sentences owe as much to an individual prosecutor's philosophy as the nature of the crime.


COLUMBUS -- A report by an anti-death penalty group criticizes the selectiveness of Ohio's capital punishment law, saying death sentences owe as much to an individual prosecutor's philosophy as the nature of the crime.

REPORT: "The Death Lottery: How Race and Geography Determine Who Goes to Death Row"

The analysis by Ohioans to Stop Executions says Cuyahoga County, with the most capital indictments in the state, once charged numerous individuals with death penalty counts each year but now charges very few.

Excerpt from summary of report:

"The numbers speak for themselves. While Ohio's overall use of the death penalty is slowing, it has become more apparent than ever before that the race of the victim and location of the crime are the most accurate predictors of death sentences in the Buckeye State.

When looking at all capitally-indicted murders across Ohio over the history of the current statute, 40% of capital indictments come out of Cuyahoga County. Two-thirds of all Ohio murder victims are people of color, yet in 2013 three out of four new death sentences were for the murder of White people. Since executions resumed in Ohio nearly 77% have been for the murder of White people.

These statistics belie the words carved into the face of the U.S. Supreme Court building: "Equal Justice Under Law." Even as the numbers demonstrate drastic disparities in its use, the data available from the Ohio Supreme Court, the Ohio Attorney General, the Office of the Ohio Public Defender and others demonstrates convincingly that Ohio's use of the death penalty is in decline.

Ohio prosecutors filed the fewest number of capital indictments in 2013 since the death penalty was reinstated in 1981. According to the Ohio Supreme Court Clerk's Office, 21 death penalty cases were filed in 2013, down 28% from 2012 and down 63% from 2011. Four new death sentences were issued in 2013.

This decrease continues a steady decline in death sentences since Life Without Parole first became a sentencing option in Ohio in 1996. Capital indictments in Ohio continue to decline significantly. When the death penalty returned in 1981, capital indictments soared to 1,288 over the subsequent ten years. However, indictments have declined 53.6% since that initial surge.

In 2013, capital indictments hit an all-time low since the death penalty's reintroduction. Twenty-one new indictments were filed, indicating a 28% decline from 2012 and a 63% decline from 2011. Even though 320 death sentences have been assigned in Ohio, a significant number of those cases never conclude in the execution chamber. Six men were scheduled for execution in 2013, but only three executions took place.

One condemned inmate received a sentence commutation (from Death to Life Without Parole); another received a seven-month reprieve; and one condemned inmate committed suicide days before his scheduled execution."

The report released Wednesday notes a similar trend in Franklin County, while pointing out that Hamilton County indicts few individuals but has a high death-sentence rate because it won't accept plea bargains in capital cases.

The report also highlights the role of race, noting that two of every three Ohio death sentences since 1981 involved the killing of a white victim.

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