Data shows fewer death penalty verdicts in Ohio

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Juries in Franklin County have recently spared the lives of two convicted killers facing the death penalty.

In 2017, a jury sentenced Lincoln Rutledge to life in prison with no chance for parole for the murder of Columbus police SWAT officer Steve Smith. Fellow SWAT officers gave testimony that Rutledge also shot at them.

Last month, a jury also sent Brian Golsby to prison for the rest of his life for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of OSU Student Reagan Tokes.

Many central Ohioans expressed frustration and outrage on social media after the Golsby jury reached its decision, but Ohio Public Defender, Tim Young, says it's a trend across Ohio, and evidence the death penalty is becoming infeasible.

"If the government does something that it fails over 90 percent of the time, it should stop," said Young.

The Death Penalty Information Center in Washington DC says the number of people executed in the United States peaked 20 years ago at 98. By last year, that number fell to 23.

In 2014, a Quinnipiac poll revealed more Ohioans support life sentences over the death penalty, but Young said asking Ohio whether it supports the death penalty is the wrong question.

"The question should be are you in favor of a system that can't be fair? I think the answer to that would be overwhelmingly no," said Young.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction's most recent numbers show in Ohio, four counties make up nearly half of all inmates at the Ohio death house.

The numbers suggest jurors in Hamilton County are more than twice as likely to send an inmate to death row than Franklin County.

The Death Penalty Information System reports Ohio is six times more likely to execute a prisoner convicted of killing a white female than a black male.

Lou Tobin is the president of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorney's Association.

"I think the death penalty is imposed based on serious violent past conduct and the heinousness of the crime," said Tobin.

Franklin County prosecutors are now seeking the death penalty against Quentin Smith, the man charged with murdering two Westerville police officers, and Anthony Pardon, who police say tortured his victim before killing her.

Franklin County hasn't handed down a death penalty decision since 2012 when a three-judge panel sent Caron Montgomery to death row for murdering his girlfriend and her two children.

Young said many jurors simply aren't willing to take a life.

"What the death penalty is...is retribution. And that's not justice. Retribution is not justice," said Young.

Tobin said the courts have indicated the death penalty is an expression of society's moral outrage.

"I think it's retribution and justice. And the Supreme Court of the United States has said that retribution is a part of it," said Tobin.

Since 1973, nationwide, at least 155 people have been released from death row.