Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pennsylvania, Ohio approach death penalty differently

Youngstown Vindicator
September 12, 2010

An overwhelming majority of Americans support the death penalty. Polling conducted by Gallup over the course of 20 years has consistently found that at least two-thirds of American’s support the death penalty for those convicted of first degree murder.

The high-water mark was 1994, when 80 percent of Americans supported capital punishment. Homicide rates were alarmingly high in the mid-1990’s. However, today with crime rates at, or near, their lowest point in nearly a half-century, support for the death penalty is not only stable but increasing.

A Pennsylvania poll conducted in 2009 by Susquehanna Polling and Research on behalf of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review found that 67 percent of Pennsylvanians supported the death penalty. Looking at it from a different perspective, the Ohio Poll conducted last year by the University of Cincinnati, Institute for Policy Research found that 70 percent of Ohioans were opposed to abolishing the death penalty.

Different approaches

Pennsylvania and Ohio share a border — they share similar sentiments regarding the death penalty — but each state could not be more different in its respective approaches to capital punishment. Ohio has executed seven killers this year, more than every other state but Texas. Pennsylvania has not carried out an execution since 1999.

Pennsylvania has executed three men since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. All three men waived their appeal rights and asked to be executed. There is a de facto moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania. It has been nearly 50 years since a contested execution was carried out in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell continues to sign death warrants. He has signed 113 in his nearly eight years as governor. He recently signed three of those death warrants. One of the warrants is for the killer of a Reading police officer. Gov. Rendell said at a recent press conference, “It’s very frustrating — it’s frustrating to the families, it’s frustrating to the police. You can build anything in the world in three years. You should be able to have all appeals exhausted in three years.”

In January of 2007, the Cincinnati Enquirer posited, “Less than a month since (Gov. Ted) Strickland was sworn into office, the new governor’s actions are raising questions about whether he will curtail or even halt executions.” Gov. Strickland decided that carrying out executions was in Ohio’s best interest and he has not looked back.

Slow pace

Nothing seems to slow the pace of executions in Ohio. On Sept. 15, 2009, Romell Broom was scheduled to be executed. On that day, personnel in the death chamber of Lucasville State Prison were unable access a suitable vein for the injection of the lethal three-drug cocktail that would bring about his death. Over several hours, prison staff probed for a vein approximately 18 times before Gov. Strickland stepped in to suspend the execution.

Ohio put executions on hold for three months while it studied options for establishing a back-up or alternative lethal injection protocol. The state came back and took the unprecedented step of moving from a three-drug protocol to a single drug protocol. The single drug method has since been adopted by the state of Washington and is being considered by a number of other states. Ohio has executed eight inmates using the single drug method in spite of ongoing objections to the constitutionality of the procedure.

Has the decision to carry out executions at a record pace had an impact on crime in Ohio? The Crime State Rankings 2009 released by CQ Press compared all 50 states in more than 500 crime-related categories. Pennsylvania is listed as the 25th safest state, down from 24, and Ohio is listed as the 28th safest state, up from 29.


In 2008, Ohio had 460 murders, Pennsylvania had 700. Ohio has 10 percent less people than Pennsylvania, yet its murder rate, 4 killings per 100,000 people, is 29 percent lower than neighboring Pennsylvania.

Gov. Rendell recently told the Associated Press that he “considers the death penalty a deterrent, but only when executions are carried out relatively quickly.” Ohio, his neighbor to the west, may ultimately be the testing ground for his theory

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