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Lawmaker Gains Support For Abolishing Death Penalty

Jul 15, 2015

A state lawmaker is finding new allies in her fight to abolish the death penalty.

Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow reports. 

Nickie Antonio has been down this road before. The Democratic representative from Lakewood has tried several times to pass a bill that would eliminate the death penalty.

“The state of Ohio needs to take the compassionate pragmatic and economically prudent step to abolish capital punishment,” Antonio said.

But while Antonio’s bill has stalled every session, this time she has picked up some support - from freshman legislator Niraj Antani, a Republican from Miamisburg. He says capital punishment is too expensive and represents the epitome of big government.

“To me there can be no bigger government with no bigger power than the right to execute its own citizens,” said Antani.

Antani is alarmed that about a dozen people on death row in Ohio have had their sentences commuted or exonerated. He calls on his fellow pro-life conservatives to side with him in getting rid of the death penalty.

“I believe that—just the chance that an innocent individual could be put to death is reason enough to repeal it,” Antani added.

But other Republicans disagree. Representative John Becker who represents a portion of Clermont County says there are criminals such as mass murderers and serial killers who deserve execution.

“So part of it is the inability to rehabilitate and part of it is simply punishment and it would be reserved for the most heinous of crimes,” said Becker.

There’s another issue at play when it comes to capital punishment in Ohio. The state has delayed executions until next year due to questions over the drugs used for lethal injections. Last year, death row inmate Dennis McGuire took an unusually long time to die during his execution and was reportedly seen struggling for air.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it’s ok for states to use certain combinations of drugs, but Ohio must still find suppliers and manufacturers. And prisons director Gary Mohr has said the state is having problems getting those drugs because international companies don’t want to sell them for lethal injections and pharmacists don’t want to create them for executions.

Antonio and Antani use this as a reason to steer clear of executions but Becker makes a different argument and says it doesn’t have to be death by injection.

“Frankly I like the idea of giving people choices they can have death by firing squad—death by hanging—death by guillotine—I’m not really sure I care how they die and they can choose their own method for all I care,” Becker said.

Other states have turned to similar methods as back-up options, options Antonio referred to as ridiculous and archaic.

Becker and other death penalty supporters have used another argument is support of capital punishment. They say prosecutors can use the threat of execution as a bargaining chip for plea deals.

Antani says it’s a shame that the prosecutors in Ohio’s 88 counties have that kind of power.

“It’s very, very scary when we give 88 separate people the opportunity to bargain for life or death,” Antani said.

As Antonio prepares to, once again, introduce a bill to abolish the death penalty she says there is another reason for optimism and that’s the swing in public opinion.

A nationwide Quinnipiac poll in June found that 48% favored life without parole over the death penalty. Antonio says this encourages her and others to keep raising awareness about the issue.