Friday, January 29, 2016

Breaking News: Sun Rises in East

The headline in the Columbus Dispatch caught my eye.
Study finds racial, gender bias in Ohio executions
I mean, damn.  I'd figured that Ohio (the state that round at the ends and stoned in the middle) would be better than that.  We are, after all, as our license plates sometimes say, "The Heart of It All" (whatever it might be).

Oh, sure.  I knew that every state where they'd done a competent study found that the likelihood of a death sentence went up significantly if the victim was white.  And even more if the victim was also a woman.  But surely, Ohio.

I had a client scheduled to be executed in February 2007.  Ted Strickland's term as governor began in January, and within a few days of his inauguration, I got a call from his chief legal officer.  He wanted me to know that Governor Ted had given my client a reprieve until April so that he would have time to study the case and decide whether to grant clemency.

Cool, I said.  Thank Ted, I said.  But you know, what he should do, I said, is declare a moratorium on executions for a couple of years and arrange for a full study of the death penalty here.  Here's the press release, I said.
I believe that Ohio's death penalty operates as fairly and perfectly as anything done by humans can. But because death is final, and in an abundance of caution, and to show the world that we are careful, I'm calling a halt to all executions until we've done a full, open, and fair study of just how it works in both theory and practice.
Once that study is complete, I'm confident that we can go forward with no changes at all, knowing that humans cannot improve on what we do here in the Buckeye State.
Is what I said Ted should say.

And Governor Ted's chief laughed.  Yeah, he said.  Not a chance, he said.

And, of course, there was no chance Ted would do that.  For all sorts of reasons.*  One of them, was that Ohio's no different from anywhere else.  I knew it.  His chief legal guy knew it.  He knew it.

What Ohio hadn't had was a real study.  We've had a few now.  By the ABA, by the Death Penalty Task Force put together by the Ohio Supreme Court (in partial response to the ABA study).  

And now
Ohio's 53 executions shown "vast inequities" in racial, gender and geography, a new study concludes.
Research by Frank Baumgartner, a University of North Carolina political science professor, are not a revelation to those familiar with Ohio's death penalty, which resumed in 1999 after a 36-year hiatus. But it does underline a consistent pattern that has been pointed out in state, national and media reports for years.
Baumgartner looked at Ohio's 53 executions between 1999 and 2014, finding "significant and troubling racial, gender, and geographic disparities with regards to who is executed in Ohio." Baumgartner concluded that the victim's race and gender, and the county where the murder occurred, influenced whether or not the killer was executed.**
To which the cognoscenti say
No shit.

*If you're sufficiently bored, you can trawl through the archives here and find bunches of stuff I've written about Strickland and the death penalty. 

** The Dispatch posted the full study.

NB: Gideon wrote about the study, too.  And pointed out that Connecticut wasn't any better - except that it shut down the death penalty.  At least for the moment.

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