Sunday, August 15, 2010

Public Officials Question Executions in Ohio

Ohio is on Pace to Carry Out Record Number of Executions in 2010

Kevin Keith walked into an apartment north of Columbus, Ohio, during the winter of 1994, and started shooting, he killed three people and wounded three more. Among the dead was a 4-year-old girl. The wounded included and 7-year-old and a 4-year-old.

Apparently, Keith was looking for revenge after being arrested for selling drugs based on the cooperation of one of the victim's relatives. Keith was arrested two days later. He was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death. Both state and federal appellate courts have upheld the conviction. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his case.

According to the Mansfield News Journal, efforts to spare the life of Keith have been heroic, and there should be no argument that the defense has been allowed to present all the evidence there is in hopes of convincing Governor Ted Strickland to grant a stay of execution.

At last week's clemency hearing, the defense spent seven hours that included the testimony of nine people, all begging for the life of a man convicted of killing three people (including a 4-year-old girl) and injuring three others (including two children).

"I can't see me being put to death," said Keith, 46, who is scheduled for the requisite clemency hearing this week and for execution Sept. 15. "It would be a sad day for me, my family and the justice system."

According to the Columbus Dispatch, Keith is not the only person that is concerned about the criminal justice system and the impact of his execution or any execution in Ohio.

Keith's case, coupled with the fact that Ohio is on pace for a record number of executions this year, have prompted high-level current and former officials to call for a comprehensive review of all Death-Row cases — and possibly a moratorium. The Dispatch reported that two former prison directors and three prominent Republicans: Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul E. Pfeifer, former Attorney General Jim Petro, and state Senator David Goodman all have some reservations about the death penalty.

Adding to the momentum are five death-sentence commutations by two governors since 2003, passage of a strong new DNA law to avoid wrongful convictions, and exonerations of three inmates because of new DNA tests results.

Pfeifer, who first urged a death row review in a Dispatch story in May, remains the strongest advocate for a review.

"This isn't about me or anything I might do," Pfeifer told the Dispatch, "although I might have to revisit that if the new governor says, — I don't want any part of it."

Petro supports the death penalty but favors forming an independent task force to examine death row cases and halting executions while that review is being conducted.

"We should show restraint, caution, and diligence with these cases," Petro told the Dispatch. "DNA has opened a lot of people's eyes with what it can do. When you are talking about death, you can't afford to make even one mistake."

Two former state prison directors, Reginald A. Wilkinson and Terry Collins, who witnessed 34 of 39 executions since 1999, agree that the death row cases should be reviewed to see if they are the "worst of the worst," the standard set down when Ohio resumed capital punishment 11 years ago.

Wilkinson, director from 1991 to 2006, takes it a step further.

"I'm of the opinion that we should eliminate capital punishment,'' he told the Dispatch. "Having been involved with justice agencies around the world, it's been somewhat embarrassing, quite frankly, that nations just as so-called civilized as ours think we're barbaric because we still have capital punishment."

Keith is scheduled for execution on September 15, 2010. The only person standing between him and lethal injection is Governor Strickland. He has the authority to commute Keith's sentence to life in prison.

Not everyone in Ohio is looking to overhaul capital punishment. Justice Pfeifer's six colleagues on the Supreme Court, plus Governor Strickland and Attorney General Richard Cordray, have no interest in a study commission, much less a moratorium.

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