Twenty-seven states across America still have the death penalty, and Ohio is one of them. While capital punishment is practiced in more than half of the United States, in accordance with the federal death sentence, the probability of execution occurring, and the possibility of a lengthy, painful, or brutal death if it does, varies greatly.
In this article, we’ll explore the history of capital punishment in the state of Ohio and take a deep dive into some famous cases, botched executions, and exonerations.
Does Ohio Have The Death Penalty?
In the American state of Ohio, capital punishment is currently a lawful sentence. However, Governor Mike DeWine has postponed all executions permanently, and lethal injection will never again be performed as a form of capital punishment.
DeWine has ordered a moratorium on all executions until the Ohio General Assembly decides on an alternative means of execution. Nevertheless, this does not appear to be a legal priority, and as a result, there will most likely be no further executions in the state of Ohio for an undetermined amount of time.
Ohio’s most recent execution occurred in July 2018, as Robert J. Van Hook was killed by lethal injection for homicide.
History of Capital Punishment in Ohio
Until 1885, executions were often carried out through public hangings overseen by local districts. Capital punishment and executions were relocated to the Ohio Prison in Columbus way back in 1885. The electric chair was also used to kill 312 men and 3 females in Ohio in 1897. Donald Reinbolt was the final individual to be executed by the electric chair back in 1963.
The most recent execution in Ohio occurred in July 2018, when Robert J. Van Hook was put to death by lethal injection for homicide. The execution took place in the Southern Ohio Correctional Institution in rural Scioto County, which is just outside Lucasville.
Beginning January 2012, the bulk of male convicts on death row have been housed at the Chillicothe Correctional Facility in unorganized Ross County, just west of Chillicothe. The Ohio State Prison near Youngstown houses a few high-security male death penalty convicts.
Convicted female prisoners are kept at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville, while death row prisoners with critical medical issues are kept at Columbus’ Franklin Medical Center.
Governor Mike DeWine declared a “unofficial moratorium” on the death penalty in the state of Ohio on December 8, 2020, citing the inability to obtain the medications required to carry out such a lethal injection. DeWine stated that no executions would take place unless the Ohio General Assembly authorized alternative techniques, as lethal injection is the only one now approved.
Ohio has 133 death row convicts as of 2021. Mass murderers Shawn Grate, Anthony Kirkland, and Michael Madison are among the notable offenders on Ohio’s execution row. Donna Roberts, the sole female on Ohio’s death row, killed her ex-husband as a way to collect his life insurance coverage.
Sandra Lockett received the death penalty for her role in a robbery and subsequent homicide. At the time, Ohio’s statute granted permission to the courts to examine only 3 mitigating considerations in death penalty cases. If neither of those conditions was present in a case, the accused had to face the death penalty.
The case of Lockett went to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled in Lockett v. Ohio (1978) that the prosecution in a death penalty case “shall not be barred from having to consider, as a contributory circumstance, any facet of a defendant’s personality or log, as well as any of of the conditions of the offense that the defendant provides as a grounds for a sentence below the death penalty. Lockett’s conviction was ultimately overturned.
Richard Cooey argued that Ohio’s method of execution process would result in a torturous death. Cooey was killed on October 14, 2008, after the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit dismissed his appeal.
In 1984, Romell Broom was accused of abduction and killing and was ultimately condemned to death. His death date was set for September 15, 2009. The execution team searched for an appropriate artery for Broom’s lethal injection for 2 hours but did not manage to place the IV.
Broom attempted to help the crew in identifying a vein during the treatment, but they were still incapable of placing it successfully. The prison administrator called Governor Strickland, who granted a stay of execution to allow the government to conduct an evaluation of the lethal injection technique. Broom is still on death row in Ohio.
Controversy and Exonerations
In the state of Ohio, there is a campaign to ban the practice of capital punishment. Republicans such as previous Ohio Governor Bob Taft, great-grandson of President William Howard Taft, and past Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro have openly opposed the death sentence. Taft criticized the death penalty’s appropriateness, as well as geographical and racial inequities.
There have also been multiple botched executions and exonerations, some of the most notable cases are listed below:
- Joe D’Ambrosio was acquitted 23 years after his conviction in 2012. D’Ambrosio’s sentence was initially overturned by a federal District Court back in 2006 since the government concealed critical evidence from the defense. The federal district court first granted the state permission to re-prosecute him, however before hearing, the state discovered the presence of even more critical evidence and asked for additional time. Furthermore, the state failed to disclose the death of a potential witness against D’Ambrosio in a timely fashion.
- Due to the obvious prosecutors’ wrongdoing, the District Court blocked D’Ambrosio’s re-prosecution back in 2010. On January 23, 2012, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear the government’s argument in the case, effectively ending the death penalty case.
- Timothy Howard and Gary Lamar James were given the death penalty in 1976 for a bank heist in Columbus, Ohio, which resulted in the death of one of the banking officers. After fresh evidence was discovered, both men were freed from jail in 2003. The Franklin District attorney dismissed all allegations against Howard and James due to conflicting witness accounts and completely undiscovered DNA evidence.
- Ricky Jackson and Wiley Bridgeman were finally released from custody on November 21, 2014. Authorities moved to dismiss allegations against Jackson, Bridgeman, and another co-defendant, Kwame Ajamu (previously Ronnie Bridgeman), who was freed but not cleared in 2003. In November, a court officially dropped the allegations against Jackson and Bridgeman, and on December 9, he dropped the accusations against Ajamu. The 3 men were found guilty of murder in 1975 based on the testimony and account of a 12-year-old child who just later retracted, claiming he had not observed the murder at all. The death penalty was imposed on all 3 suspects.
- Jackson and Bridgeman spent the most time in prison before being exonerated, with 39 years between arrest and exoneration. There’s been 149 wrongful convictions and subsequent exoneration of persons condemned to death in the United States since 1973, counting 8 in Ohio.
While Ohio still technically has the death penalty as a legal form of punishment, it is currently on hold. This means that no one else will be executed in the state of Ohio until an alternative method is decided upon or until they choose to abolish the practice.