Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Justice Pfeifer Speaks

The bill, as introduced, is 154 pages long, but there's no reason for you to slog through it.  Hell, I'm not even bothering to post the thing on line.  You want to read it, here's the link.  Really, though, and especially since it won't become law, the bottom line is all that matters.  And the bottom line is that House Bill 160 would abolish the death penalty in Ohio.
The rest is, really, surplussage.
OK, as I said, HB 160 won't be enacted.  Not a chance.  It's one of a long line of abolition bills to be introduced in the Ohio General Assembly.  Happens every few years.  But this time it's different.
First, it's different because the time is different.  This is the year that Terry Collins, former director of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said we should abolish the death penalty.  This is the year that Jim Petro, former Ohio Attorney General published a book explaining how it is that we screw up and convict innocent people. This is the year that Maureen O'Connor, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio, established a task force to examine the death penalty and see if it's as sure and perfect as human fallibility can make it. This is the year when we've killed five men we planned to but didn't kill the other five which may not seem like much from where you sit, but Governor Kasich actually commuted two death sentences to life and granted reprieves to two other guys which is quite remarkable.
And this is the year when the abolition bill in the General Assembly got a hearing.  This morning.
The highlight was Paul Pfeifer.
That's Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer.  That's former state Senator Paul Pfeifer who was one of the three senate sponsors of our current death penalty law.  That's Paul Pfeifer who's called on the Governor to establish a committee to review every death sentence.  That's Paul Pfeifer who votes sometimes to affirm death sentences and who signs off on execution dates.  And it's Paul Pfeifer who told the House Criminal Justice Committee this morning that enough is enough.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins, AP reporter, was there.
"The statute does not work the way we expected," Pfeifer told the House Criminal Justice Committee. "What has enfolded is an application that is hit or miss depending on where you commit the crime and the attitude of the prosecutor in that county."
There's no political capital in this, but Pfeifer doesn't need it.  19 years on the Ohio Supreme Court, and he's secure.  And he knows what he's talking about.
He is, after all, the man who wrote the law he now says should be repealed.
After he testified in favor of abolition, he talked to the press. 
And through them, to us.
He says we'll abolish the death penalty one of these days.
Not soon enough for Charles Lorraine next month.  Not soon enough for a lot of folks.  
But Pfeifer's right, it'll happen.

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