Ohio Catholics at Forefront of Efforts to End Executions

November 17, 2014

From left, Professor Dale Lanigan, Chairpman of the Department of Sociology and Justice Studies, Larry Murphy, Assistant Professor, Sociology & Justice Studies, exonerated death row survivor Derrick Jamison, Terry Collins, who executed more than 30 prisoners as Director of the Ohio Department of Rehabiliation and Correction, Charles Kieth, whose brother was murdered and another brother wrongly sentenced to death, Abe Bonowitz, an OTSE organizer and a member of the CMN Advisory Board, and Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Presiding Judge John Russo, a member of the Joint Task Force on the Administration of Ohio’s Death Penalty.

The Voices of Experience panel at Lourdes University in Sylvania, Ohio in the Diocese of Toledo and the legislative district of the House Majority Leader Barbara Sears.

Ohioans to Stop Executions (OTSE) was co-founded by the Catholic Conference of Ohio in 1988 and has primarily focused on raising awareness about state executions and helping litigators with strategic communications during clemency campaigns. Now the organization and its allies are taking advantage of new opportunities to slow the pace of executions and stop new death sentences.

In May, a state Supreme Court-appointed task force completed more than two years of work by making 56 recommendations to improve the fairness and accuracy in the implementation of Ohio’s death penalty system. The recommendations are designed to root out racial and economic injustice within the death penalty system while making the system fairer. Because the Ohio legislature is dominated by supporters of the death penalty, this is the first time since the resumption of executions that there is real opportunity for positive change on this issue in Ohio.

pop out quote ohioSince the release of the Task Force report, OTSE has been building constituencies in the legislative districts of House and Senate leaders with the power to make sure the recommendations receive a fair hearing and implementation bills move forward. The primary vehicle for this organizing work has been its “Voices of Experience” public forums, which are being hosted in churches throughout the state. Each event features one of Ohio’s six exonerated death row survivors, a murder victim family member, one of Ohio’s two former directors of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction who now oppose the death penalty, and one of the members of the Supreme Court Joint Task Force on the Administration of Ohio’s Death Penalty.  Read some of the resulting news coverage here.

Concurrently, OTSE has launched its Faith Leader Initiative, a project designed to educate and mobilize Ohioans in partnership with their faith communities. The Faith Leader Initiative supports imperatives from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops calling on Catholics to not only oppose the death penalty, but to actively work to end it. Faith Leader Initiative goals include the opportunities for faith leaders to add their names to OTSE’s clergy sign-on letter, developing a leadership point person in parishes and other institutions, and ongoing education programming within parishes.

Catholics throughout Ohio are getting involved with Ohioans to Stop Executions.Click here to take action. Learn more at www.OTSE.org or contact OTSE Executive Director Kevin Werner by e-mail or at 614-560-0654.