CLEVELAND — Some inmates on death row could get their sentences changed to life in prison under a proposed bill making its way through Columbus.
The bill is drawing fire from prosecutors across Ohio.
“This allows someone whose mental illness was in remission, and understood it was wrong to murder and decided to murder anyway, to avoid the death penalty,” said Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci, who is also president of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association.
Vigluicci joined Cuyahoga County Presecutor Michael O’Malley and others at a news conference in Cleveland Wednesday to criticize the bill, which has passed the Ohio House and is before the judiciary committee in the Senate.
Prosecutors said the bill would not only drag out litigation at taxpayers’ expense but inflict unnecessary pain on the families of victims.
“Reopening past convictions to litigate a mental state, from years or even decades ago, is after the fact and technically impractical and needlessly painful for the families of victims,” Carol O’Brien, chief counsel to Ohio Attorney Dave Yost, who also opposes the bill.
The bill would prevent a death sentence for killers with "serious mental illness." And it would allow those already on death row to request a hearing to make the case that they were mentally ill when they killed.
If a judge agrees, killers would get life in prison.
Supporters, which include the several mental health advocacy groups, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Ohio, back the bill. They say the bill is morally right and ensures that people not responsible for their actions are not put to death.
But prosecutors said existing law already exempts certain mentally ill killers. They also complained the bill would effectively rid Ohio of the death penalty.
“We encourage [lawmakers] to put to a vote of people, not abolish it through a backdoor using House Bill 136 and Senate Bill 54,” Vigluicci said.
O’Malley noted that 20 death row inmates are from Ohio, including serial killer Anthony Sowell.
“This bill will take him off death row,” O’Malley said.