Newly elected Justice Bill O’Neill likely raised a few eyebrows when he dissented from the Court’s setting of an execution date for convicted killer Jeffrey Wogenstahl. O’Neill heard no aspect of this case. He made it clear that he expressed no opinion on the merits of Wogenstahl’s guilt or innocence, and made a point of expressing his repugnance at what Wogenstahl had done. O’Neill dissented solely because he believes capital punishment is cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 9 of the Ohio Constitution.
O’Neill emphasized that the United States is one of only a few civilized countries that still permit state executions, and that if there is a trend nationally, it is against the death penalty. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia now ban it. He posited that by definition, the punishment is unusual.
As an example of the cruelty of the punishment, he cited to the 2009 case of Romell Broom, in which the executioners spent over two hours trying to administer a lethal injection, and failed. The execution had to be called off. Broom remains on death row today.
“The time to end this outdated form of punishment in Ohio has arrived.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.”
Read O’Neill’s complete dissent here.
O’Neill is not the first Ohio Supreme Court justice to speak out against the death penalty. Justice Paul Pfeifer has done so on a number of occasions, including at his swearing–in ceremony two years ago. Read about that here. Pfeifer joined the majority in signing the warrant for Wogenstahl’s execution.
It won’t be surprising if the prosecution tries to have O’Neill disqualified from sitting in future death penalty appeals, on the grounds that he has pre-judged the issue.But that decision is up to the individual justice. Justice Pfeifer refused to recuse himself from the death penalty case of State v. Maxwell White. And Justice O’Neill clearly doesn’t seem the type to go gentle into that good night.