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Courts and Crime

Bill makes repeat violent sexual assaults punishable by death
Ohio lawmaker John Becker proposed bill in response to Ariel Castro's crimes

Andy Chow
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There’s a proposal that would allow the state to sentence rapists to death without a murder charge. But as Statehouse correspondent Andy Chow reports, the idea goes against recommendations of a task force in charge of reviewing the state’s capital punishment policies.

LISTEN: John Becker discusses bill proposal

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An Ohio lawmaker wants to make violent sexual assaults punishable by death. The sponsor, Republican Representative John Becker of southwest Ohio, says he came up with the bill after hearing about the crimes of Ariel Castro.

“If there was ever a sex crime that deserved the death penalty—that is it.”

Castro was sentenced to life in prison after he pleaded guilty to rape and kidnapping. He held three women hostage for about 10 years before they were found inside his Cleveland house earlier this year.

Becker says his proposal would allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty for violent rapists who already have one sexual assault conviction. The idea is not necessarily to prevent crime or even to send a message to criminals.

"You know there’s some argument that capital punishment having nothing to do with or having no impact on deterrent— I've seen those studies and that may very well be true. But what it’s more aimed at is negotiating a plea bargain.”

Smith: “This bill does seem to be a political statement rather than effective criminal justice reform. I mean it’s clearly unconstitutional.”

Allison Smith, spokesperson for the group Ohioans to Stop Executions, believes that capital punishment is inefficient and expensive.

Smith says Becker’s proposal goes against the recommendations of a task force that was put together by the Ohio Supreme Court. The task force voted to recommend limiting the scope of the death penalty to only those convicted of murdering multiple victims, children under 13, police officers, or for those who murdered to escape detention or to eliminate a witness.

“This bill does seem to be a political statement rather than effective criminal justice reform. I mean it’s clearly unconstitutional.”

Smith says the idea of expanding capital punishment to sexual assault crimes would not only waste resources but cause more harm for the victims.

“Do we really want to drag the victims through Ohio’s lengthy death penalty process? Victims who are still very much alive and have to endure 20 to 30 years of media attention and trials and other procedures that come along with the death penalty.”

Smith believes this proposed bill could open the door for other crimes to be suggested as punishable by death. Becker urges that he only wants executions to be expanded for violent sexual offenders but adds that other legislators could include their opinion on the matter.

“That’s what the legislative process is all about—if somebody else were to propose something then we could discuss that in the General Assembly and if we pass something then the governor will have his chance to weigh-in on it with a signature or a veto we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

The representative says about half a dozen other states already have a similar law in place.

The task force in charge of reviewing Ohio’s death penalty is expected to put out a full report—possibly by the end of this year.

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