Ohio Catholic Bishops Seek to End Death Penalty

By: The Associated Press
By: The Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati and Bishop Frederick Campbell of Columbus are among 10 Catholic church leaders in Ohio who have signed a statement urging the state to stop using the death penalty, weeks after an Ohio Supreme Court justice issued the same call.

Ohio put eight people to death last year, the most since 1949, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

The statement signed by the Catholic bishops said they believe capital punishment is wrong in nearly all cases and that "just punishment can occur without resorting to the death penalty."

Former state prisons director Terry Collins and Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer also recently called for an end to capital punishment in Ohio. Pfeifer, a Republican, helped write Ohio's death penalty law and was one of its leading proponents as a state legislator in the 1970s and 1980s, but he said it's being used in cases for which it wasn't intended.

"I think the time's right on this one," he said last month. "You have Republicans in every direction. . With that political configuration, it would be the most opportune time to seriously debate and discuss whether or not we have the death penalty."

One state lawmaker, Democratic Rep. Ted Celeste of Grandview Heights, hopes to get that debate going by introducing legislation aimed at abolishing the death penalty in Ohio.

As the state wrestles with an estimated budget shortfall of $8 billion, Celeste wants the bill to become part of the budget debate, he said, noting that he's concerned about the expense of death penalty cases and how capital punishment is applied throughout the state.

"Some counties may never choose the death penalty because it is too expensive," he said. "It doesn't really afford equal justice."

Any efforts to repeal the death penalty law are likely to face opponents at the local and state levels. County prosecutors usually oppose efforts to end capital punishment. Gov. John Kasich and Attorney General Mike DeWine voted for Ohio's death penalty measure in 1981 when they were state senators, and they still support it. A spokesman said Republican House Speaker William G. Batchelder of Medina also backs the death penalty.

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