Study brings ultimate decision into question

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Some decisions that, once made, can never be taken back. But none more so than administering a death sentence to a convicted criminal.

Advocates and opponents endlessly argue the necessity versus the humanity of the practice that was used in Ohio from 1803 to 1972 and then reinstituted in 1981.

No matter which side of the issue you fall on, a recent study certainly raises as many questions as it answered.

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In 2004, Ohio executed seven inmates, up from three the previous year, second only to Texas, which executed 23.

The Associated Press recently conducted an analysis of 1,936 capital indictments from 1981 through 2002 and found that defendants were more than twice as likely to receive a death sentence for killing a white victim than for killing a black victim.

The results also showed that death sentences handed out varied greatly based on the county where a crime was committed. In Cuyahoga County, a Democratic base, 8 percent of indictments resulted in death sentences, but that figure climbed sharply to 43 percent in the more conservative Hamilton County.

The Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has urged state legislators to stop executions, at least temporarily, until the data can be analyzed further.

But the ACLU is not alone in this. In 2004, the Ohio House authorized a study examining how the death penalty is applied across the state but the Senate did not act on the bill, rendering it a moot point.

Though we do not condemn the use of the death penalty, pausing to make sure it is applied evenly and fairly is absolutely crucial. We must take every precaution to make sure that each person facing the death penalty is receiving a fair trial by a jury of their peers.

Could more be done to determine the guilt or innocence of those facing the death sentence and those already on death row? We think so.

The justice system will never be perfect - but it should be a close as humanly possible.

In 2003, Gov. Bob Taft lowered Jerome Campbell's sentence to life in prison after questions arose about evidence introduced at his trial. How many other Jerome Campbells are there that are awaiting death?

Legislators and judges must make sure the system is fair to people of all race, background and economic status. If not, the state could make mistakes that can never be undone.