Opinion | Witnessing, questioning the need for death penalty in Ohio
Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 23, 2012 23:04
The state of Ohio resumed executions after a six-month unofficial moratorium April 18, putting to death 49-year-old Mark Wiles.
In 1985, Wiles, 22, fatally stabbed 15-year-old Mark Klima when he was caught robbing the Klima’s house. Wiles worked as a farmhand for the Klimas, a couple with only one son and a barn full of horses in Portage County.
But on the night of Aug. 7, 1985, Wiles stabbed Klima in the back 25 times.
In my Journalism 350 course, my class has studied the Ohio death penalty and was given the opportunity to cover the demonstrations outside the prison during Wiles’ execution.
In this course we also discovered the Ohio capital punishment system is flawed. One would assume that the worst of the worst criminals are placed on death row. Yet, this is not always the case. In fact, they say the death penalty is for the worst lawyers not the worst defendants.
This discrepancy also occurs when a prosecutor asserts his or her authority by using the death penalty as a leverage tool or bargaining chip. One county in Ohio that frequently faces this criticism is Cuyahoga County. From 2002 to 2012, Cuyahoga County had 315 indictments for capital murder. However, of that number only five resulted in death sentences, according to the Ohio Public Defenders Office, Death Penalty Division.
Another flaw in the system is in the case of innocent inmates. On Jan. 23, after serving more than 21 years on death row, Joe D’Ambrosio was exonerated.
D’Ambrosio was wrongfully convicted of murdering 19-year-old Anthony Klann, whose body was found in a Cleveland creek in 1988. In 2006, U.S. District Judge Kate O’Malley ruled that Cleveland prosecutors withheld 10 pieces of evidence that would have led the three-judge panel to find D’Ambrosio not guilty and implicate another suspect in the crime, according to The Plain Dealer.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, D’Ambrosio is the 140 former death row inmate to be exonerated in the country since 1973 and the sixth from Ohio. Sadly, there are still questions about who killed the young boy found in the creek and that is truly unfortunate.
When I attended the execution in Lucasville, Ohio with three of my classmates I didn’t know what to expect. Now we didn’t actually see Wiles receive the lethal injection. Instead, we were in the parking lot of the Chillicothe Correctional Institute covering the demonstrators, watching the prison courtyard and waiting for the call of time of death.
We were with members of Ohioans to Stop Executions (OTSE), led by Sister Alice, chair of the Board of Directors.
The experience was interesting. Because we were in the parking lot, there was an obvious distance and we only received internal updates from media reporters’ tweets, such as the Associated Press’s (AP) Andrew Welsh-Huggins.
At the execution site, a blue barrel divided the 15 opponents and one supporter of the execution. The demonstrators gathered around 9:30 a.m. with Sister Alice as she answered death penalty questions, rang a bell and led the group in prayers for Wiles and everyone directly involved in the execution.
At 10:42 a.m., Wiles was executed by lethal injection. According to onsite AP reporter, Welsh-Huggins, Wiles’ final words were:
“Finally, the state of Ohio should not be in the business of killing its citizens,” Wiles concluded, reading a statement that the warden held over his head. “May God bless us all that fall short,” he said, reported by Welsh-Huggins.
After the announcement we all waited as a hearse approached the door of the Death House, where the execution occurred, to transport the body. It was a sobering moment because it was almost time for Sister Alice to lead her group in singing the famous hymn, “Amazing Grace.”
Then at 11:02 a.m. a red body bag was led out of the Death House by two men who lowered the body into the back of the hearse.
From the parking lot we could see Wiles’ feet shape through the windshield of the hearse. Then after a routine car check and pat down the hearse slowly left the gate of the prison and followed by a police escort as the OTSE sang “Amazing Grace.”
I didn’t break down in tears but I felt a ping of sadness that two lives were lost because of one man’s mistake. I also pondered Wiles’ last words.
It’s argued that Wiles revoked his rights as an Ohio citizen when he killed Klima. In the days approaching the execution, Wiles admitted he did not deserve mercy so maybe that made this odd exposure easier to handle.
I didn’t know what to expect when my group drove up to the prison literally across from Valley High School, but it certainly made my entire study of the death penalty feel more meaningful.