Ohio asking wrong questions about death penalty

Published 10:00 am Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ohio corrections officials are still having the wrong discussion about the death penalty.

As they have since the tortured execution of Joseph Clark in 2007, those who run Ohio’s death row keep looking for the best — that is to say, the most efficient and pain-free — way to put condemned prisoners to death.

Last week, they announced that Ohio would change the drug used for lethal injections after the next scheduled execution on Feb. 17. …

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But even as the state tinkers with the machinery of death, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer is trying to start a far more important discussion. Pfeifer wants Ohioans to reconsider not how this state puts prisoners to death, but whether it should.

As he freely admits, Pfeifer’s career has been closely associated with capital punishment. In 1981, as a Republican state senator from Bucyrus, Pfeifer helped craft the state law that restored the death penalty in Ohio after two previous statutes had been declared unconstitutional. .

But Pfeifer . has come to believe that the death penalty is fundamentally and irreparably broken. He contends that safeguards designed to limit capital punishment to a relative handful of heinous situations have been routinely ignored and that death sentences have become far more common than he and his legislative co-sponsors ever intended. .

During Pfeifer’s swearing-in this month, he urged new Gov. John Kasich to commute every death row sentence to life without parole.

Kasich, so far, has shown no interest in Pfeifer’s suggestion. He should. So should we all.

The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer