- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Condemned killers could gather post-trial evidence in their death penalty cases as long as the information doesn’t embarrass, annoy or unduly burden the witnesses involved, a legislative committee agreed Wednesday in approving a revision to an Ohio capital punishment bill.

The Republican-controlled Senate Criminal Justice Committee approved the change along party lines but did not vote on the bill itself. Sen. Bill Seitz, the bill’s sponsor, said the revision was an improvement over current death penalty law, which leaves it up to judges to decide if condemned prisoners can gather post-trial evidence at all. Seitz said judges often deny such requests.

“This bill still provides for something explicitly in law that did not exist previously,” the Cincinnati Republican said.

But death penalty opponents immediately raised concerns, saying such limits shouldn’t be allowed when individual lives are at stake.

“While this may be a reasonable standard in a civil case, my office believes it is wholly inappropriate in a criminal case, and certainly in a case in which the defendant’s life is on the line,” said Kari Underwood, an attorney with the Ohio Public Defender’s Office.

Committee Chairman John Eklund, a northeastern Ohio Republican, said he was confident judges would balance the interests of justice.

Wednesday’s debate involved what was supposed to be a relatively noncontroversial bill updating procedures in death penalty cases after a conviction. Supporters said the revision merely adopts the same standards for protecting witnesses during evidence gathering long used in Ohio civil law.

But Seitz said that given the rancor over the legislation, which he described as “low-hanging fruit,” he’s concerned about upcoming debate over another bill he’s introduced. It would ban the execution of condemned prisoners with severe mental illness. Prosecutors have already opposed the measure.

The two bills grew out of recommendations from a state Supreme Court task force that studied Ohio’s 30-year-old capital punishment law.

“The death penalty task force took two and a half years to come up with these recommendations,” Seitz said. “I don’t want all of them to sit on a shelf.”

The legislation debated Wednesday also says defense attorneys won’t have a page limit on petitions for post-trial challenges or in their appeals if those challenges are denied. Prosecutors argue the proposal would lead to some death row inmates expanding already weak claims and delaying courts from hearing legitimate arguments by clogging up the system with paperwork.

___

Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide