Ohio Catholic bishops seek to end death penalty
Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati and Bishop Frederick Campbell of Columbus are among 10 Catholic church leaders in Ohio who have signed a statement urging the state to stop using the death penalty, weeks after an Ohio Supreme Court justice issued the same call.
Ohio put eight people to death last year, the most since 1949, The Columbus Dispatch reported.
The statement signed by the Catholic bishops said they believe capital punishment is wrong in nearly all cases and that "just punishment can occur without resorting to the death penalty."
Former state prisons director Terry Collins and Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer also recently called for an end to capital punishment in Ohio. Pfeifer, a Republican, helped write Ohio's death penalty law and was one of its leading proponents as a state legislator in the 1970s and 1980s, but he said it's being used in cases for which it wasn't intended.
"I think the time's right on this one," he said last month. "You have Republicans in every direction. . With that political configuration, it would be the most opportune time to seriously debate and discuss whether or not we have the death penalty."
One state lawmaker, Democratic Rep. Ted Celeste of Grandview Heights, hopes to get that debate going by introducing legislation aimed at abolishing the death penalty in Ohio.
As the state wrestles with an estimated budget shortfall of $8 billion, Celeste wants the bill to become part of the budget debate, he said, noting that he's concerned about the expense of death penalty cases and how capital punishment is applied throughout the state.
"Some counties may never choose the death penalty because it is too expensive," he said. "It doesn't really afford equal justice."
Any efforts to repeal the death penalty law are likely to face opponents at the local and state levels. County prosecutors usually oppose efforts to end capital punishment. Gov. John Kasich and Attorney General Mike DeWine voted for Ohio's death penalty measure in 1981 when they were state senators, and they still support it. A spokesman said Republican House Speaker William G. Batchelder of Medina also backs the death penalty.
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Catholic bishops ask Ohio to end executions
By Jim Siegel and Alan Johnson
Ohio's Catholic bishops yesterday joined the chorus of those urging state leaders to abolish the death penalty, and a Franklin County legislator said he will introduce a bill proposing to repeal the state's 30-year-old capital-punishment law.
The call from church leaders comes on the heels of anti-death-penalty comments by Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul E. Pfeifer, a Republican who helped write the state's original death-penalty law, and Terry Collins, a former state prisons director who witnessed 33 executions.
"Just punishment can occur without resorting to the death penalty," said yesterday's statement signed by 10 Catholic church leaders, including Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr of Cincinnati, who is chairman of the Catholic Conference of Ohio, and Columbus Bishop Frederick F. Campbell.
"Our Church teachings consider the death penalty to be wrong in almost all cases. Every human being is a child of God, no matter what sins the person commits."
Rep. Ted Celeste, D-Grandview Heights, said he hopes to spark a civil dialogue about capital punishment when he introduces a bill in the next week or two to abolish the death penalty.
"What stimulated it for me was the recent numbers that showed Ohio was second only to Texas in the number of executions," he said.
Ohio executed eight people last year, the most since 1949, and has put to death 41 since resuming executions in 1999. Ohio was the only state to execute more people in 2010 than the previous year.
Celeste said he hopes the bill becomes part of the upcoming budget debate, in which lawmakers will be looking for ways to fill an estimated $8 billion shortfall. Data have shown that incarcerating someone for life is considerably less expensive because of the many appeals tied to death-penalty cases.
Collins wrote in a recent column published in The Dispatch that the death penalty's cost to counties and the state "is not a fiscally responsible policy for Ohio."
"The death penalty is expensive, often inefficient and always time-consuming," he wrote. "Too often our justice system does not place the worst of the worst on Death Row."
Pfeifer argued that the death penalty is being used in cases for which it was never intended.
"I think the time's right on this one," he said in January. "You have Republicans in every direction. ... With that political configuration, it would be the most opportune time to seriously debate and discuss whether or not we have the death penalty."
Celeste said he also is concerned that the death penalty is not uniformly applied around the state. "Some counties may never choose the death penalty because it is too expensive. It doesn't really afford equal justice."
He is not sure whether his bill could affect the 157 inmates on Death Row.
Ohio's next scheduled execution, of triple-murderer Frank Spisak of Cuyahoga County, is Feb. 17. Another execution is set for March, and prosecutors around the state have asked the state Supreme Court to set dates for 13 more convicted killers.
Gov. John Kasich and Attorney General Mike DeWine were among the state senators who voted for Ohio's death-penalty bill in 1981, and they still back it. House Speaker William G. Batchelder, R-Medina, supports the death penalty, a spokesman said.
County prosecutors have traditionally opposed efforts to end capital punishment.