Monday, September 26, 2011

In Which My Cynicism Is on the Verge of Being Slightly Shaken

I admit it.  I'm confused.
Here in the Buckeye State, with the busiest execution chamber in the north (by far: Ohio's killed 45; number 2 is Indiana with 20, less than half our total), with killings lined up through August of 2013 (yes, 2013), with a Republican Governor who supports the death penalty, in fact with every elected statewide official a Republican.
Here in the Buckeye State where we've killed 4 this year.
Here in the Buckeye State where there are 4 we didn't kill this year.
Let's get specific.  Here's Our 2011.
Frank Spisak, murdered February 17
Johnnie Baston, murdered, March 10
Clarence Carter, murdered, April 12
Daniel Bedford, murdered, May 17
Kenneth Smith, stay granted by federal judge - no appeal
Brett Hartmann, reprieve from Governor to November 13, 2012
Billy Slagle, reprieve from Governor to August 7, 2013
Shawn Hawkins, commuted by Governor to LWOP
Joey Murphy, commuted by Governor to LWOP
Who knows?
Reginald Brooks, scheduled for November 15
I left one out.  Joseph Murphy.  Last Friday, the Parole Board unanimously said he should be spared.  Not because he's innocent.  There really seems to be no question that he murdered Ruth Predmore.  Not because there was some legal mistake.  But because, in the words of the late Ohio Chief Justice Tom Moyer, he was
destined for disaster.
Which hasn't been enough before, though Joey's background was particularly horrific.
And because members of Ruth Predmore's family don't want him killed.  Which hasn't been enough before.  And because . . . .
Frankly, it was a surprise decision from the Board.  
And now, the thing is that Kasich agreed.  This afternoon, he commuted Joey's sentence.A
After examining this case in detail with counsel I agree with Chief Justice Moyer, the National Association of Mental Illness and the Parole Board's unanimous 8-0 decision that considering Joseph Murphy's brutally abusive upbringing and the relatively young age at which he committed this terrible crime, the death penalty is not appropriate in this case.
Thus, I have commuted his sentence to life in prison with no chance for parole. I pray for peace for all who have been impacted by this crime.
And then there's our current Chief Justice.  Her name's Maureen O'Connor and she's no pushover.  I know that.  I've argued cases before her.  I've had her tear into me for suggesting that a death row client may not have been the worst of the worst.  I've read her opinions.
On September 9, she announced that she's working with the Ohio State Bar Association to assemble a task force to look at Ohio's death penalty.  Not to decide whether we should have it, but to decide how, if we're going to have it, to improve it.  Here's the question she asked.
 Is the system we have the best we can do?
Which, if you're going to have a death penalty, is exactly the right question.  How do we ensure that the death penalty system is as accurate and as fair as human fallibility will allow?
We've urged a study on the General Assembly for years.  Denied.
I pushed Governor Ted to do one.  Denied.
I urged then-Attorney General Marc Dann.  Denied.
And suddenly.
OK, the devil's in the details and we don't know the details.  Who'll be on the Task Force?  What will its actual charge be?  What about staffing? Funding?  Will it take its job seriously?  Will anyone take its report seriously?  Should it be taken seriously?  Those things matter.  A lot.  After all, a badly done study, a whitewash, would likely be worse than no study.
But O'Connor seems to mean it.  Maybe.
So what's going on here?
The Chief Justice. The Parole Board.  The Governor.
Oh, and they claim there will actually be hearings on an abolition bill in the legislature.
Like I say, I'm confused.
Maybe it's fumes wafting up from the Scioto River.
Then again, It took Nixon to go to China.
So maybe I should just be a little hopeful.  
Around here, 5 months without a murder by the state is something to marvel at.  
So maybe we should just marvel for a bit.
While we wait for the shoe to drop.

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