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Death penalty’s future should go to the polls

The decision whether to abolish capital punishment in Ohio should be left to the electorate. Such a stark penalty deserves broad debate of such a deep moral issue by the residents of this state about the impact and consequences.

That position is one readers rarely will hear from this newspaper’s editorial board.

Rather, we very consistently argue that, as a representative form of government that we enjoy, the public generally should not enter the fray when it comes to establishing law. Instead, we consistently have argued law should be made by the legislators we elect to represent us in Columbus.

The issue of capital punishment, however, runs extremely deep. Deciding life and death is an incredible moral and societal responsibility that runs much deeper than past statewide referendums that might have decided things like legalizing medical or recreational marijuana or determining whether Ohio’s minimum wage should increase regularly.

It is a decision that, we believe, should be made by a greater body and larger voice.

Still, the state legislature has taken up debate over the death penalty’s future.

Ohio Senate Bill 103, which effectively would end Ohio’s death penalty for the state’s most heinous offenders, along with a separate bill in the Ohio House, is generating critically important debate and discourse.

The proposed end to capital punishment in Ohio comes at a time when Gov. Mike DeWine has instituted a moratorium on executions, citing difficulty in obtaining an effective lethal- injection drug.

That challenge, along with the never-ending divide between proponents and opponents of the death penalty, is fueling the current debate over the latest legislative proposals to end executions in Ohio.

Recently, Trumbull County Assistant Prosecutor Christopher Becker testified in Columbus before the House Criminal Justice Committee, which is considering the bill. He, along with Louis Tobin, president of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, and Saleh S. Awadallah, of the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office, spoke out against the measure, arguing the death penalty should not be viewed as a deterrent, but as punishment for the most violent and destructive members of society.

Mahoning Valley Sen. Michael A. Rulli, R-Salem, apparently feels very differently, however, because he is one of the co-sponsors of a bill to abolish capital punishment in our state. Unfortunately, multiple attempts to reach Rulli to discuss his reasoning for the sponsorship were unsuccessful as this was written, as the legislator has avoided questions.

Those supporting the end to Ohio’s death penalty appeal, including Jerry Frewalt of the Catholic Conference of Ohio and Camile Wimbish of the Ohio Fair Courts Alliance, testified in Columbus in favor of the legislation. Wimbish, for instance, has argued the death penalty is “racially biased, unjust, inhumane, arbitrary and erroneous.”

At the end of the day, very few people don’t have an opinion on this hotly debated topic. In his testimony, Tobin said studies show the public does not support repeal of the death penalty and argues lawmakers should be “highly skeptical” of any polling that suggests they do.

“When pollsters distinguish between most murders and these kinds of aggravated murders that make someone eligible for the death penalty, support for the death penalty is an overwhelming 76 percent,” Tobin said, citing a recent report about death penalty polling from Real Clear Policy.

Whether any poll on this topic holds true can be verified by only a true test at the polls. While a vote undoubtedly would leave one side unhappy with the outcome, it would have given every Ohio voter a chance to have their say on this important issue. And that’s exactly where we believe this debate should be settled.

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