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Government & Politics

Cuyahoga County Judge Calls on Legislators to Stop Ignoring Death Penalty Reform

Gov. John Kasich recently denied clemency to an Indiana man sentenced to die for two murders in Parma. The advocacy group Ohioans To Stop Executions held a forum last week in downtown Cleveland to discuss the future of the death penalty in Ohio.

Joe D’Ambrosio spent more than 20 years on death row for the 1988 murder of Tony Klann. After a district judge found county prosecutors withheld evidence, D'Ambrosio became the sixth person to be exonerated since the death penalty was reinstated in Ohio in 1974.

Cuyahoga County’s top judge, John Russo, served on a joint task force that recommended more than 50 ways to improve accuracy and fairness in death penalty cases. These included protections for inmates with mental illnesses. Russo says they’ve been ignored by legislators.

“Very few of those 50-plus recommendations have been looked at, and yet we continue to impose the death penalty sentence and handing down executions," Russo said. "Somebody should take it off the shelf and start to look at it ... if we’re going to continue to have the death penalty in the state of Ohio.”

A study recently released by Harvard's Fair Punishment Project found most of Ohio’s death row inmates are likely mentally ill. D’Ambrosio said those inmates are at a disadvantage.

“The sad thing is, most of the guys on death row have mental problems. How are they supposed to defend themselves?” D'Ambrosio said.

The next execution in Ohio, of 45-year-old Gary Otte, is scheduled for this week.