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Ohio justice says division over death penalty on capital punishment review panel expected

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Divisions were to be expected on a panel that spent more than two years studying capital punishment in the state, the chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court said as the group wraps up its work.

The panel convened in 2011 by Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor finalized its recommendations last week and now awaits a dissenting report from prosecutors on the committee who disagreed with some proposals.

"There was going to be some really divisive topics and going to be diametrically opposed positions," O'Connor told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "I'm not surprised. And I think it's healthy."

Recommendations include reducing the number of crimes eligible for the death penalty and creating a statewide board that would have the final say over death penalty charges in the state. Defense attorneys, judges, prosecutors and capital punishment experts sat on the committee.

Many of the recommendations focused on reducing the role that race plays in capital punishment. Data show that in Ohio and other states the killers of white victims are more likely to receive a death sentence than those who kill blacks.

O'Connor, a Republican and former county prosecutor, has said the goal of the committee was a fair, impartial and balanced review of the state's 3-decade-old death penalty law. She made it clear from the start that abolishing capital punishment was not on the table.

Implementing the panel's 56 recommendations would reserve the death penalty for the worst of the worst criminals as lawmakers envisioned when they enacted the 1981 law, according to supporters of the proposals.

Prosecutors say the recommendations would make it virtually impossible to sentence anyone to death in Ohio.

Many of the proposals would require lawmakers' support, while others could be approved as Supreme Court rules. O'Connor said she hopes lawmakers take a comprehensive approach to any recommendations they consider.


Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.

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