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Renewed Effort Underway To Abolish Ohio's Death Penalty

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Ohio House of Representatives

One state lawmaker is finding new allies in her fight to get rid of the death penalty.

State Rep. Nickie Antonio has been down this road before. The Democratic lawmaker 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. State Rep. 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.

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Credit Ohio House of Representatives
State Rep. Nickie Antonio announcing a previous effort to end Ohio's death penalty.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it’s okay for states to use certain combinations of drugs, but Ohio must still find suppliers and manufacturers. And Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections 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 State Rep. John 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," Becker said. "I’m not really sure I care how they die and they can choose their own method for all I care.” 

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.

As State Rep. Nickie 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 percent favored life without parole over the death penalty.