OH Representative Op-Ed States Innocence Changed Her Mind About the Death Penalty
Cincinnati - The Enquirer: Opinion: Risk of executing the innocent is too great
By: State Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Loveland
February 1, 2022
When the Ohio General Assembly voted to bring back the state’s death penalty in 1981, I firmly believe they did so with the best of intentions. Those lawmakers thought that our criminal justice system was unimpeachable and that the death penalty served the best interests of our citizens. I, too, used to believe that the death penalty was necessary for Ohio.
However, after learning how the death penalty really works in Ohio, I have changed my mind.
I believe in the sanctity of human life and always have. The death penalty always ran contrary to that deeply held belief; and I struggled to reconcile that, as I know many of my colleagues do. But there was a moment when I knew that I had to take a stand against the death penalty and be a champion for human life: the moment I met Joe D’Ambrosio.
Joe D’Ambrosio was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for a brutal murder in Cleveland in 1988. He was convicted based on faulty forensic evidence and the prosecution’s version of events that ignored several key pieces of evidence pointing to Joe’s innocence. His trial lasted only three days. He spent 20 years on Ohio’s death row before his exoneration in 2012. Sunday, Jan. 23, marked the 10-year anniversary of his exoneration.
I met Joe in 2013 after he shared his story at an event I attended. I was struck by how warm and friendly he was. For someone who had lost decades of his life, he did not seem overtly bitter and angry. He was, however, eager to convince the audience that what happened to him was far too common in Ohio. He is, as he put it, "an average Joe" – someone who had served our country in the military and had never before been trouble with the law. The fact that someone like him was sentenced to death with such speed and finality gave me great pause.
All life is sacred, and it is especially unconscionable to imagine that we have risked innocent lives through Ohio’s death penalty. Joe is one of 11 people Ohio has sentenced to death who were later released after evidence of their innocence came to light. Today, there are still people on death row whose convictions raise serious questions, like Anthony Apanovitch and Tyrone Noling.
The risk of executing an innocent person is my primary motivation for sponsoring House Bill 183 that would abolish Ohio’s death penalty. It’s not too late to correct this mistake in our criminal justice system. But if we don’t correct it now, it could be too late for the next Joe D’Ambrosio.