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Death row and wrongful convictions

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For most of us, Death Row is something far away, but not so last week. I got to see something extraordinary. Six men presented their stories at the Ohio Statehouse about how they had been wrongfully incarcerated and had spent time on Ohio’s Death Row. Ricky Jackson, Kwanme Ajamu, Wiley Bridgeman, Joe D’Ambrosio, Derrick Jamison and Dale Johnston spent a combined 173 years behind bars before their convictions were overturned.

These gentlemen were at the Statehouse as part of a lobbying effort by Ohioans To Stop Executions. OTSE distributed to all state legislators its report “A Crumbling Institution: Why Ohio Must Fix or End the Death Penalty,” which reviews the many problems with the death penalty and recommendations that will bring greater consistency and fairness to the system. The death penalty should be abolished, but that’s probably a bridge too far right now. In the short term, correcting flaws would be a success.

What struck me about these six men was their quiet reserve. I didn’t detect any anger or bitterness. Instead, what I perceived was a tremendous sense of relief and gratitude for being freed, and some of these men had been released years ago. They all expressed the same sentiment: concern that the system is broken, and that it too often comes too close to executing the wrong person. It was humbling to listen to them.

It’s encouraging to know that several of Ohio’s former leaders and current and past Supreme Court justices  question the viability of the death penalty. Among them are former Governor Bob Taft, former Attorney General Jim Petro, Supreme Court Justices Paul Pfeifer and William O’Neill, former Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Stratton, and former Directors of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections Terry Collins and Reginald Williams.

To err is human, but to err with the death penalty is inexcusable, but it happens. Death Row is sometimes a place where innocent men go.

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Jack D’Aurora writes for considerthisbyjd.com

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Discussion

  1. miriam rafferty  April 23, 2015

    If you want to watch a movie about an innocent man that goes to the death chair, watch “Kill Me if You Can” about Caryl Chessman played by Alan Alda. A message by the state to free him came too late. The last scene for me was a real tear jerker and for Dad too. Never forget watching it till 1 a.m. and not sleeping very well after that.

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  2. Robin Lorms  August 22, 2016

    Jack:
    This topic is near and dear to my heart. As you may recall, i spend my retirement days helping incarcerated men prepare to reenter society. Our organization, Kindway, works with both Ohio Reformatory for Women and Marion Correctional Institution. After 6 years we now have 75 returning citizens and not one has committed a felony. Our recitivesm rate is ZERO. Why so low? Because we care for those forgotten and abandoned by most of our culture. We commit to serve them and mentor them for a full year before release and another full year after release. Many have served excessive sentences yet they do it with humility and patience. I cannot tell you how many have fallen into despair, risen to hope for a parole and, without reason or documentation, been cast to the curb yet again. Nearly all have clean prison histories and have fulfilled all the requirements asked of them. I consider many to be my best friends and would gladly have them babysit our grandchildren. Our employers love their work ethic and seek “all of those we can supply” for employment.
    Your article and summation shows the underlying lack of empathy for many of those lost in our prison system. We at Kindway have God’s call on our hearts to listen to these men and women, to love them as God has loved us and to commit to walk alongside them inside and upon release. Many have been in our program for the last 6 years and continue to wait patiently for reason and common sense. The wait has been long and difficult. We thank God for the opportunity to serve this population. They need a voice and have one in Kindway.

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    • Robin Lorms  August 22, 2016

      Jack:

      As a follow up to my last comment:
      I do want to clarify that the Parole Board has been willing to listen to us and been of great assistance in giving us guidance on several men and women in our program. I didn’t want to convey a sense of insufficient lack of consideration by public officials. We have some cases where we feel there is NO or very minimal risk to release an inmate. It is these cases that cause one to have deep empathy for an incarcerated brother or sister who has been denied a parole. On balance, the Parole Board has exercised due process in their decision making and genuinely taken into account the facts of the case and the efforts to improve taken by those in our program.

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    • jdaurora@behallaw.com  September 1, 2016

      Looks to me like the people at Kindway are truly doing the Lord’s work. Nicely done, Robin!

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