COLUMBUS — Representatives of the faith community, correctional officers, victims’ families, and exonerated death row inmates joined forces Tuesday to urge Gov. John Kasich to block Ohio’s plan to resume carrying out executions next week.
They delivered more than 27,000 signatures to his office, urging him to commute the death sentence of Ronald R. Phillips, 45, to life without parole. Phillips’ often delayed execution is now set for July 26, and 26 more have execution dates scheduled into 2021.
Kwame Ajamu, a former death row inmate from Cleveland, was later exonerated after a key witness in his murder trial recanted. He noted eight others like him in Ohio also walked off death row alive. Odds are, he said, that someone like them is among the 27.
“I don’t know who it is,” he said. “None of you knows who it is, and neither does John Kasich.”
Representatives of various churches tried to use scripture quoted by Mr. Kasich to urge the Republican governor to at least delay executions until key recommendations from a report from a death penalty task force are enacted.
Retired Dayton area appellate Judge James A. Brogan, who chaired the Ohio Supreme Court’s Joint Task Force to Review Administration of Ohio Death Penalty, noted it’s been more than three years since 56 recommendations were issued.
“It is my view that if Ohio is to retain the death penalty, it should not resume executions without addressing our body of work, which took nearly two and a half years to complete and was representative of the key stakeholders in the criminal justice system,” he said in a written statement.
Among other issues, the report recommended limiting the death penalty to cases involving certain types of compelling evidence, requiring in-custody interrogations to be recorded, requiring all crime labs to be accredited, increasing funding for public defenders, and requiring a review of death penalty charges to remove racial and geographic disparity.
Phillips was convicted in the murder of Sheila Marie Evans, the 3-year-old daughter of his Akron girlfriend. The Ohio Parole Board unanimously recommended Mr. Kasich not show him mercy.
“Phillips’ crime is clearly among the worst of the worst capital crimes,” the board said “Its depravity is self-evident. The victim is an innocent 3-year-old child whom Phillips used to sexually gratify himself, repeatedly sodomizing the child.
“As if subjecting the child to those vile sex acts were not enough, Phillips also brutally beat the child, repeatedly hitting her, throwing her, and dragging her by her hair,” it said. “Words cannot convey the barbarity of the crime. It is simply unconscionable.”
Ohio has not executed an inmate since Dennis McGuire, of Preble County, on Jan. 16, 2014, using a two-drug protocol of the sedative midazolam and morphine derivative hydromorphone. Witnesses described McGuire as making choking and snorting sounds and struggling against his restraints in the unusually long 26 minutes it took him to die.
Ohio abandoned that protocol afterwards, but has struggled since to obtain the drugs it would prefer to use because manufacturers refuse to make them available for executions.
A Cincinnati appeals court recently lifted an injunction that had prevented the state from proceeding using three readily available drugs, starting off again with midazolam. Lawyers for Phillips and two other inmates have urged the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene.
©2017 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)
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