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AG Yost Urges Ohio Elected Officials to Address Flaws in State’s Capital-Punishment System


(COLUMBUS, Ohio) — Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost used the release today of the “2022 Capital Crimes Report” to call on Ohio’s elected leaders to initiate a much-needed, long-overdue debate about our state’s broken capital-punishment system.

“I personally support the death penalty, especially for the most abhorrent offenders, but I am only one voice,” Yost said. “Let’s open up the conversation and allow victims’ families to be heard.”

The Capital Crimes report, an annual statutory requirement of the Attorney General’s Office, provides the procedural history and other information on every case that has resulted in a death sentence since Ohio’s death-penalty law was enacted in 1981.

From 1981 through Dec. 31, 2022, the report says, 336 people have received a combined 341 death sentences. Of those, only 56 sentences – just one in every six – have been carried out.

“The facts and trends illuminated in this report are an indictment of Ohio’s broken system,” the report’s Executive Summary says. “It is a system that is not fairly, equally or promptly enforced, and because of that it invites distrust and disrespect for the rule of law.”

Throughout his tenure as attorney general, Yost has become increasingly convinced that something must be done about the massive amount of time, money and litigation expended on death-penalty cases that linger.

On average in Ohio, a condemned inmate spends nearly 21 years on Death Row – mostly as a result of the numerous avenues for appeal – before an execution date is set. Juries impose death sentences on those responsible for heinous murders, then the state “spends years debating, reviewing, appealing and failing to act on those decisions,” the Executive Summary says.

Meanwhile, Ohio is spending millions and millions of dollars — ­a capital case costs the state between 2½ and five times as much as a noncapital case — on this system, which doesn’t achieve its purpose.

“If we were starting from scratch to design a system for the ultimate punishment — whether that punishment is execution or, instead, life in prison without parole — neither death-penalty opponents nor death-penalty supporters would create anything like Ohio’s current system, which produces churn, waste, and endless lawsuits and nothing else,” the Executive Summary says.

A microcosm of the system’s failure is the case of Danny Lee Hill, who has been on Death Row for 37 years and, in that time, has filed more than 25 appeals in an effort to avoid execution. On March 20, in response to yet another appeal, a federal appeals court agreed to reconsider a previous order allowing him to seek federal relief yet again.

“Danny Lee Hill raped, tortured and murdered a 12-year old Warren boy, Raymond Fife, in 1985,” Yost said. “His ability to delay – again and again and again – what a jury determined to be a just punishment for his unspeakable crimes is one example of many that reinforce just how broken the system is.

“Where is the closure for the young victim’s family?”

Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins, who prosecuted Hill for his crimes, says the state has failed Raymond Fife’s loved ones.

“Justice is a journey, and it doesn’t end for a victim’s family until sentencing is carried out,” Watkins said. “The Attorney General’s Office has been fighting for the Fife family in federal court for over 20 years to see that Danny Lee Hill's state court convictions and death sentence are upheld. It’s long past time for justice in this case.”

Yost said Ohio needs to find the political will to do something: Either make capital punishment an effective tool for justice or eliminate it.

“The current state of limbo is unfair to victims’ families, unjust to communities, and disrespectful to jurors who did their duty and followed the law in deciding that the ultimate punishment fit the crime,” he said. “Ohioans deserve to know – will death sentences be carried out or won’t they?”

The 2022 Capital Crimes Report is available on the attorney general’s website.

Steve Irwin 614-906-9113


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