Prosecutor: Report would end Ohio death penalty

ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS AP Legal Affairs Writer Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Many recommendations by a committee studying changes to Ohio's death penalty law would effectively end capital punishment in the state if put in place, a veteran prosecutor said Thursday as the panel prepared its final report after two years of work.

Such mandates as requiring DNA evidence or a videotaped confession for death penalty sentences would make it impossible to convict even the worst criminals, said Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien, a member of the committee and a critic of many of its findings.

"Many of the recommendations are so onerous that you could take Timothy McVeigh, and if he didn't give a videotaped confession, and you didn't have DNA, that you couldn't execute Timothy McVeigh," said O'Brien, a Republican and prosecutor since 1996.

McVeigh was executed in 2001 for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people and wounded hundreds.

O'Brien also criticized the recommendation of a state death penalty panel run by the attorney general that would approve or disapprove of capital charges sought by county prosecutors.

"There's no more expertise at another location than there is in the prosecutors' offices who are handling the cases," O'Brien said.

A dissenting report will be submitted next week.

The committee convened by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor in 2011 was meeting Thursday to review its final report and 56 recommendations.

All the recommendations could be put in place and capital punishment would remain in Ohio, but in a vastly reduced form, state Public Defender Timothy Young said.

"Ohio would still have capital punishment but I think it would be limited to the worst of the worst cases, which has always been the stated goal of the death penalty in the United States," Young said.

Some of the recommendations, such as the DNA requirement or the state charging panel, would need lawmakers' support. Such backing is questionable in what is still a death penalty-friendly state.

Other recommendations, including training for any lawyer involved in a death penalty case, could be approved as a Supreme Court rule.

Among other proposals:

--Ban death penalty charges in cases where prosecutors used testimony from jailhouse snitches that was not independently verified by the time jurors weigh the sentence.

--Pass a law allowing for the filing of racial disparity claims.

--Ban the execution of defendants who were mentally ill at the time of the crime or at the time of a scheduled execution.

The report also recommends eliminating kidnapping, rape, aggravated arson, aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary as elements of a crime that could lead to a death penalty charge.

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Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.