Following a three-year hiatus, Ohio resumed its state executions in July
with the death of Ronald Phillips. According to media witness accounts, there were no "complications" with the execution itself.
Controversy, however, had followed
Ohio's capital punishment policies since 2014, when the state oversaw a clunky and potentially unconstitutional execution
The next inmate to be executed is convicted killer Gary Otte, scheduled for Sept. 13
. Ohio has more than two dozen executions scheduled
The Fair Punishment Project at Harvard Law School published a study on those 26 inmates and found an alarming proportion of mental impairments and histories of abuse among them. For example, "At least 17 out of the 26 men (65 percent) experienced serious childhood trauma – horrifying instances of extensive physical and sexual abuse. At least six men (23 percent) appear to suffer from a mental illness."
Read the full document here
"Our research on individuals facing execution in Ohio turned up some absolutely horrifying stories of abuse, mental illness, and disability," legal director Jessica Brand said in a statement accompanying the study. "In fact, in 88 percent of the cases we looked at, we found significant impairments, many of which were never considered by a judge or jury. This indicates something has clearly gone awry in the state’s implementation of the death penalty."
The report walks through each of the 26 men, listing a brief psychological biography and a contextualized explanation of the crime of which they were convicted.
When it comes time to describe Otte, the Fair Punishment Project writes about how three of the 26 men committed their crimes when they were under the age of 21.
"One of these individuals is Gary Otte – the next man scheduled for execution – who committed his crime 25 years ago when he was just 20 years old. Otte also spent his lifetime suffering from chronic depression, was regarded as a 'very sad little boy' who was socially isolated, had psychological problems, developmental delays, learning disabilities, and was emotionally handicapped. Perhaps in response to these psychological difficulties, Otte began abusing alcohol and drugs at age 10, and first attempted suicide at age 14. Six years later, having received little help, he committed the offenses for which he was sentenced to death. During the last 25 years, Otte has received disciplinary punishment only a handful of times, which is remarkable compared to others with similar years behind bars. His record shows just how much an individual can change once his brain develops."
(Otte was convicted
of killing two Parma residents during a robbery in 1992.)
Elsewhere, the FPP describes David Sneed, who is scheduled to die next year: "David Sneed suffers from a mental illness and has impaired cognitive functioning that borders on intellectual disability. He has been diagnosed with 'severe manic bipolar disorder and a schizo-affective disorder involving hallucinations and delusions.' In the months leading up to Sneed’s crime, 'a treating physician concluded Sneed was "suffering from a mental illness of a severity requiring hospitalization."' The psychiatrist described Sneed as 'psychotic, delusional, and . . . assaultive.' After his arrest, Sneed was initially found incompetent to stand trial. Once stabilized on psychotropic drugs, Sneed regained his competency and became a 'model prisoner.'" (Citations are provided in the document.)
The conclusion drawn in this report is that there are concerns with the overall context of Ohio's rapacious execution calendar. Often enough, limitations in the criminal justice system preclude judicial intervention after appeals have been exhausted. Some inmates in Ohio, include Phillips in his last years, have taken to filing civil complaints
and urging a jury trial over the death penalty procedure itself.