By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
COLUMBUS: Ohio should restrict the use of capital punishment charges and create a state panel to approve them, according to two of the 56 recommendations in the final report from a committee that spent more than two years studying changes to the law.
The committee proposes eliminating cases where an aggravated murder was committed during a burglary, robbery or rape, requiring solid proof of a defendant’s guilt such as DNA evidence, and banning the execution of the mentally ill, according to a draft copy of the report the Associated Press obtained Wednesday.
The state panel would be run by the Attorney General’s Office and would approve or disapprove of death-penalty charges a county prosecutor has proposed. That panel, similar to the approach federal prosecutors take, is meant to reduce the role that race plays in death-penalty cases, according to a final draft of the report, dated March 31. It would include former county prosecutors and members of the attorney general’s staff.
The death penalty review committee, which Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor created in 2011, convenes today for what’s expected to be its final meeting. O’Connor declined comment ahead of the meeting.
The committee “believes that the recommendations made by this report will promote fairness in capital cases for both the state and the defendant,” the report said.
Several of the committee’s recommendations would need legislative approval, with support uncertain in what remains a death penalty-friendly state.
Among the recommendations, the report proposes:
• Pass a law banning the use of the death penalty unless prosecutors have biological or DNA evidence linking the defendant to the crime, a videotaped, voluntary confession; or a video recording that “conclusively links” the defendant to the killing.
• Ban death penalty charges where prosecutors used testimony from jailhouse snitches that was not independently verified at the time a jury is weighing the sentence.
The report also recommends eliminating kidnapping, rape, aggravated arson, aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary as elements of a crime that could lead to a death-penalty charge. The committee says such factors rarely lead to death sentences but can increase racial disparities in sentencing. Multiple murders, the murder of a child or a police officer would remain as death-penalty elements.