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Ohio report shows capital punishment decline, only 3 sentenced last year

COLUMBUS (AP) — Three people were sentenced to death in Ohio last year, far below previous years when as many as 17 were sentenced to death in a single year — in both 1995 and 1996, according to an annual report on capital punishment released Monday.

The report released by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said a total of 323 death sentences have been handed down under the state’s 1981 law. Last year’s total was one less than in 2013.

The report also said 53 inmates have been executed since the state resumed putting inmates to death in 1999 after a 36-year gap. Nineteen have had their sentences reduced to prison time, and 26 have died before execution, the report said.

Eight death row inmates were declared ineligible for execution because of mental disabilities, while 69 death sentences were removed for some other type of judicial action, the report said.

Ohio currently has 146 active death penalty cases, including James Conway of Columbus, who received two death sentences for different slayings.

The state’s leading anti-death penalty organization, Ohioans to Stop Executions, said the report reflects the continuing decline of capital punishment.

“What we see is the institution of the death penalty crumbling before our eyes,” said Kevin Werner, the organization’s executive director.

The report reflects a drop in death sentences in the state as prosecutors file fewer cases and juries choose the option of life without parole. It also comes at a time when Ohio and other states are scrambling to keep supplies of execution drugs on hand.

Most drugmakers are putting their drugs off limits for lethal injection, forcing states to turn to non-federally regulated versions of drugs. Utah recently reinstated the firing squad in the event it can’t find lethal drugs.

Ohio has had so many problems obtaining lethal drugs that it put off all executions until next year in hopes of finding some. It scrapped its former two-drug method after the state’s sole 2014 execution, a troubling procedure when Dennis McGuire took 26 minutes to die, snorting and gasping repeatedly.