A newly elected Ohio Supreme Court justice who achieved the unlikely feat of ousting an incumbent without accepting any campaign contributions is not wasting any time in asserting his opposition to the death penalty. In an order this week setting an execution date for a convicted murderer, Judge William O’Neill issued a strong dissent blasting capital punishment as “inherently cruel and unusual,” even in the most egregious cases:
Without expressing an opinion as to appellant’s guilt or innocence, however, I would hold that capital punishment violates the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and Article I, Section 9 of the Ohio Constitution. The death penalty is inherently both cruel and unusual and therefore is unconstitutional.
Capital punishment dates back to the days when decapitations, hangings, and brandings were also the norm. Surely, our society has evolved since those barbaric days. The United States is one of just a few civilized countries that still permit state executions.
To date, 17 states and the District of Columbia have eliminated the death penalty altogether. It is clear that the death penalty is becoming increasingly rare both around the world and in America. By definition it is unusual. […]
Additionally, death, even by lethal injection, is a cruel punishment. One need only look at the recent Ohio case of Romell Broom for a demonstration of that proposition. Although the executioners spent over two hours attempting to find a vein through which to administer the lethal injection, they ultimately failed. Subsequently, the governor granted a one-week reprieve. Broom remains on death row today. A more chilling definition of cruel is hard to imagine.
The time to end this outdated form of punishment in Ohio has arrived. While I recognize that capital punishment is the law of the land, I cannot participate in what I consider to be a violation of the Constitution I have sworn to uphold. I must respectfully dissent.
Conceding that this particular case involved a “horrific act deserving of the strongest punishment possible” — the kidnapping and stabbing of a child — O’Neill makes the point that even the most compelling cases do not merit a punishment that violates the U.S. Constitution. In so doing, he does not even touch upon the other compelling rationales for abolishing the death penalty — its arbitrary and racially discriminatory imposition, and the alarming frequency of wrongful convictions. It is because there are so many reasons to oppose the punishment that the consensus against it is increasingly overwhelming.
In addition to being an experienced appeals court judge, O’Neill is also a registered nurse who worked in a pediatric emergency department during his campaign, lending particular credence to his analysis of lethal injections as inherently cruel.
O’Neill proved during his judicial campaign that he is not afraid to speak truth to power. He ran on a platform that “money and judges don’t mix,” and responded to a request from the state’s bar association that he refrain from making “statements that impugn the court’s integrity and imply that justice is for sale” by saying, “I am not implying that justice is for sale. I am stating it as a matter of fact.”