The state of Ohio is set to reclaim its position as one of the most avid practitioners of the death sentence in America after it carried out its first execution in six months following the lifting of a court-imposed moratorium.
In recent years Ohio has had the dubious distinction of being second in the US league table of states carrying out the death sentence, behind only Texas. Its enthusiasm for judicial killing resumed on Wednesday when it put to death Mark Wiles for the murder of the 15-year-old son of his former farm employers.
The execution brought to an end a six-month moratorium imposed on Ohio by a federal district court judge, Gregory Frost, who expressed sharp criticism of the way the state penal services carried out the lethal injection. The state has a history of botched executions and procedures that stray from its own rule book.
Mike Brickner of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio warned that the resumption of executions in the state cleared the way for a spike in judicial killings. He pointed out that Ohio has 11 executions scheduled between June this year and January 2014, with 151 prisoners still on death row.
“History will show that Ohio is moving in the wrong direction on executions. More states are recognising the simple fact that the death penalty is broken beyond repair, and Ohio’s leaders must come to grips with a system that perpetrates injustice and unfairness,” he said.
In January, Joe D’Ambrosio became the sixth death row inmate to be exonerated after the federal courts found that prosecutors had achieved a death sentence for him by withholding 10 pieces of key evidence from his lawyers.
The Ohio supreme court – the highest judicial panel in the state – set up a study commission in October to look at the fairness of the death penalty as practised locally. Previous research had pointed to significant disparities in meting out the ultimate punishment based on the race of the victim and offender, economic class and geography of where the crime was committed.
But the most grotesque aspect of Ohio’s record has been its botched executions. The most shocking case was that of Romell Broom, who spent several hours on the gurney in 2009 while prison officials attempted unsuccessfully to locate a viable vein into which they could inject poisons.
Joseph Clark in 2006 and Christopher Newton in 2007 both spent more than an hour while officials tried to find useable veins. In Clark’s case, he sat up on the gurney in the middle of the procedure and exclaimed: “It’s not working”; they persisted and finally put him to death.
Ohio has executed 47 prisoners since the death penalty was resumed in the US in 1976 – eighth highest among the states. But in recent years, before the latest moratorium began, it was second only to Texas.
In 2009, it put five people to death, and in 2010 eight, behind Texas with 24 and 17 respectively.