DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – The federal government’s decision to resume executions has drawn the ire of conservatives who believe the death penalty is bad law and contrary to their beliefs.
The group Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty held a conference call on Monday to announce it had gathered 250 signatures from conservatives supporting the end of executions. Two Ohioans – State Rep. Niraj Antani (Miamisburg) and Nathan Wirebaugh, a former field coordinator for the conservative Charlie Kirk’s non-profit Turning Point USA – signed the declaration.
In July, Attorney General William Barr announced the federal government would resume executions in December. The announcement made little sense to conservatives on the conference call. Since the federal government reinstated the death penalty, its only been used three times – one executed was Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh – and hasn’t been used since 2003.
The list was represented by a wide range of conservatives. College campus Republican and Libertarian group leaders, talk show hosts Tom Anderson and Mark Janocik, Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center and former Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul were among the signators.
“The death penalty is a failed big government program,” National Manager for CCATDP Hannah Cox said. “It hasn’t worked as a deterrent, it’s arbitrary in its nature, it’s affected by socio-economic racial bias and it’s the most expensive part of the justice system.”
Antani said the death penalty is against everything he believes as a conservative.
“I’m pro-life from conception to someone’s natural death,” Antani said. “Even if you are for the death penalty but are concerned about innocent lives, the number of exonerations and numbers of people wrongfully convicted, I think just the chance someone innocent being put to death, that’s enough for someone pro-life to be against the death penalty.”
National support for the death penalty has fallen 24 percent since the 1990s. According to Pew Research, support for the death penalty was polled at 78 percent in 1996 before falling to 54 percent in 2018. Support had been lower in previous years before inching up last year.
Darcy Van Orden of CCATDP Utah said the falling support coincides with a drop in the crime rate during the same time period. That lack of support has also come as more people on death row have been exonerated due to DNA evidence and other high-tech forensics.
“Longstanding statistics have shown four percent or more on death row are absolutely innocent,” Van Orden said. “Now it’s believed to be at least 10 percent or more are innocent, and that’s because some people have had the Innocence Project prove their case.”
Van Orden said the death penalty isn’t used in the manner it was put into law for – for the most egregious of crimes. Often the death penalty is issued depending on if the prosecutor is pro-death penalty, the zip code the alleged crime took place or if the person can afford a good attorney. She said the racial disparity is very disproportionate.
“I grapple asking a jury of our peers to send someone to their death,” Van Orden said. “What would that do to someone?”
Several speakers said the conservative case against the death penalty is rooted in the belief in limited government. Antani said, “If the government couldn’t be trusted to run health care, then how can you trust it to decide a person’s life?”
Others said executions violated the principles of being pro-life as well as put the country in categories with some of the worst places in the world like North Korea.
Most signators were involved in Republican politics at the state and local level or college groups. This fits what Cox said is an opportunity for people to lead from those levels and change laws in Washington D.C.
Antani said he first sponsored a death penalty repeal five years ago in the Ohio legislature. Cox said the group had made headway to ending the death penalty in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah, and was beginning to gain traction in Kentucky and Ohio, where it hopes to get bills on the floor in the next year.
Ohio is one state the group has targeted because of issues in getting the drugs needed to execute by lethal injection.
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