A Democrat Revs Up Ohio’s Death Machine

Ohio’s execution machine is back in business, with a new boss signing the death warrants. The recently elected governor, Democrat Ted Strickland, presided over his first two lynchings April 24 and May 24, with the lethal injections of James Filiaggi and Christopher Newton, and plans to put another prisoner to death in July.

Following Strickland’s election in November, many opponents of the death penalty felt a sense of confidence. After eight years of Republican Gov. Robert Alphonso Taft II, whose regime executed 24 prisoners, the change appeared to offer an opening for change.

Strickland postured as a pious Methodist minister and former prison psychologist (ironically, at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio, the location of the state’s death chamber and scene of a 1993 prisoner rebellion). Shortly after taking office, Strickland placed a short moratorium on executions, saying that he didn’t want to rush into things.

But it turns out, when it comes to the death penalty, our new governor isn’t much different from our old governor. Strickland denied a last-minute appeal in late April and signed Filiagi’s death warrant. In his final statement before the lethal injection induced cardiac arrest, Filiaggi said that while the death penalty was “fine for me,” “there are many innocent prisoners on Ohio’s death row.”

Strickland’s notorious second lynching, that of Christopher Newton in late May, focused international attention and shame on Ohio’s machinery of death. Executioners repeatedly stabbed Newton with the IV needle as they desperately scrambled to find a vein, in a procedure that lasted nearly two hours, the state’s second botched execution in just the past year. The execution was so lengthy, in fact, that it was interrupted at one point to allow Newton to take a restroom break. Strickland commented that “the procedure worked as it was intended to work.”

Never mind that the American Psychological Association, which Strickland is a member of, has a resolution calling for a halt to executions (at least until the “deficiencies” are cleared up). Never mind that the Methodist church opposes all forms of capital punishment and supports abolition.

Never mind that during last year’s botched execution of Ohio prisoner Joe Clark, witnesses heard Clark moaning as he was tortured to death for 90 minutes. Clark asked his executioners, “Can’t you just give me something by mouth to end this?”

Never mind that in early April, a judge ordered a new trial for William Montgomery, on Ohio’s death row for the past 20 years, because his attorneys weren’t given a police report described as “material to the outcome.”

The hypocrisy of Ted Strickland shouldn’t have surprised us. As a member of Congress, he voted for the vile HR 4437 (Sensenbrenner bill) to criminalize undocumented immigrants. And when Bush announced plans to allow a mere 7,000 Iraqi refugees to emigrate to the U.S., Strickland smugly stated that they were not welcome in Ohio.

Like everywhere else, Ohio’s death penalty is barbaric and must be abolished. What’s obvious is that abolition will not come from politicians, no matter from which of the “official” parties. As with all wins for our side, it will be struggle built from below that matters. The time is ripe to advance this struggle.

PATRICK DYER contributes to the Socialist Worker newspaper and lives in Toledo, Ohio.