Capital punishment has been a part of Ohio’s justice system since early in the state’s history. From 1803, when Ohio became a state, until 1885, executions were carried out by public hanging in the county where the crime was committed. In 1885, the legislature enacted a law that required executions to be carried out at the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus. The first person to be executed at the Ohio Penitentiary was Valentine Wagner, age 56. Wagner, from Morrow County, was hanged for the murder of Daniel Shehan from Mt. Gilead. Twenty-eight convicted murderers were hanged at the penitentiary.
In 1897, the electric chair, considered to be a more technologically advanced and humane form of execution, replaced the gallows. The first prisoner to be executed by electrocution was William Haas, a 17-year-old boy from Hamilton County, for the murder of Mrs. William Brady. The last person to be executed by electrocution in Ohio was Donald Reinbolt, a 29-year-old inmate from Franklin County, for the murder of Edgar L. Weaver, a Columbus grocer. He was executed on March 15, 1963. From 1897 to 1963 there were 315 persons put to death in the electric chair including three women.
In 1972, the United States Supreme Court declared the death penalty to be unconstitutional. The decision reduced the death sentences of 65 Ohio inmates to life in prison. Also in 1972, Death Row was moved to the newly opened Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF) at Lucasville.
In 1974, the Ohio General Assembly revised Ohio’s Death Penalty law, but the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the new law in 1978. As a result, 120 condemned prisoners, including four women, had their sentences commuted to life in prison.
After drafting a new law to reflect the strict criteria for the imposition of the death sentence, Ohio lawmakers enacted the current capital punishment statute, which took effect October 19, 1981. Leonard Jenkins of Cuyahoga County was the first to be sentenced under the current law. His sentence and the sentences of three other men and four women were later commuted to life by then Governor Richard Celeste during the last days of his tenure as governor in January 1991.
The Franklin County Common Pleas Court found seven of the eight clemencies to have been improperly imposed (including Jenkins’) and reinstated the death penalty of those inmates. They were returned to death row on February 14, 1992. One woman’s commutation, Beatrice Lampkin, was found to have been properly processed and was not challenged in the suit filed by the Ohio Attorney General. The 1992 decision was overturned early in 1997, and those seven clemencies have been subsequently reinstated.
In 1993, a bill granting prisoners the option to choose between death by electrocution or lethal injection was passed and signed into law by former Governor George V. Voinovich. The Death Row inmate would be asked to choose between the two methods seven days before the scheduled execution. The law stipulated that if the prisoner did not choose, the default method of execution would be death by electrocution.
In 1995 Death Row was relocated to the Mansfield Correctional Institution in Mansfield, Ohio. The "Death House" remains at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. All executions, whether male or female, take place at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility.
On February 19, 1999, inmate Wilford Berry, "The Volunteer", became the first inmate to be executed in Ohio since 1963. He voluntarily waived all of his appeals and selected lethal injection as the method of execution. To date, there have been eight inmate "volunteers" executed in the state of Ohio. Berry was serving a death sentence out of Cuyahoga County for the 1989 murder of Charles Mitroff.
On August 21, 2001, DRC changed the time of scheduled executions from 9:00 p.m. to 10:00 a.m. The change was implemented to take advantage of business hour resources as well as to reduce costs.
On November 15, 2001, Governor Bob Taft signed House Bill 362 eliminating the electric chair as a form of execution. The only method of execution in Ohio is lethal injection.
On February 26, 2002, Ohio’s electric chair, nicknamed "Old Sparky," was decommissioned and disconnected from service. The original electric chair was donated to the Ohio Historical Society on December 18, 2002, and a replica electric chair was donated to the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society.
On June 26, 2003, inmate Donna Roberts became the first female on Ohio's death row since 1991 when then-Governor Celeste commuted the sentences of four women on Death Row to life in prison.
On June 26, 2003, Governor Bob Taft commuted the sentence of inmate Jerome Campbell to life in prison without the possibility of parole. This was the first time that Governor Taft has exercised his right to grant executive clemency.
In October 2005, DRC transferred death row from the Mansfield Correctional Institution to the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown. Death row for females is located at the Ohio Reformatory for Women.
On January 9, 2008, Governor Ted Strickland commuted the sentence of inmate John Spirko to life in prison without parole eligibility. This was done after Spirko had received several reprieves from Governor Strickland while DNA testing was being conducted.
On February 12, 2009, Governor Ted Strickland, in agreement with the recommendation from the Ohio Parole Board, commuted the sentence of inmate Jeffrey Hill to life with parole eligibility after 25 years.
On November 30, 2009, DRC became the first state in the country to adopt a one-drug protocol for lethal injections. The revised protocol also includes a back up method for intramuscular injection, should vascular access be problematic. On December 8, 2009, Kenneth Biros was the first inmate put to death using the one-drug lethal injection protocol.
On June 4, 2010, Governor Ted Strickland, in agreement with the recommendation from the Ohio Parole Board, commuted the sentence of inmate Richard Nields to life without the possibility of parole.
On September 2, 2010, Governor Ted Strickland commuted the sentence of inmate Kevin Keith to life without the possibility of parole.
On November 15, 2010, Governor Ted Strickland commuted the sentence of inmate Sidney Cornwell to life without the possibility of parole.
In January 2011, DRC announced a change in the lethal injection protocol, changing from the use of Sodium Thiopental to Pentobarbital. The protocol change was a result of a national shortage of Sodium Thiopental and the manufacturer's announced discontinuation of the drug. The new protocol was applied to the execution of Johnnie Baston in March 2011.
On June 8, 2011, Governor John Kasich commuted the sentence of Shawn Hawkins to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
On September 26, 2011, Governor John Kasich commuted the death sentence of Joseph Murphy to life without parole.
In January 2012, Ohio's death row relocated to the Chillicothe Correctional Institution
On June 10, 2012, Governor John Kasich commuted the death sentence of John Eley to life without parole.
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