People with severe mental illness who commit murder should be excluded from the death penalty, a state task force recommended.
The panel will urge the General Assembly to pass a law preventing a death sentence from being handed down on someone with a diagnosable severe mental illness when he commits the crime.
There is a deep divide among task force members about what is serious mental illness and whether the current legal system does an adequate job of screening for it.
Terry Russell, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Ohio, said action is long overdue. He began advocating for a mental-illness exclusion in 1999 when Wilford Berry, who struggled with serious mental illness his entire life, was the first Ohioan to be executed in thirty-six years.
“We knew this man was severely mentally disabled,” Russell said. “It is inhumane to execute someone like that.”
The task-force recommendations will be submitted next year to the General Assembly, Governor John Kasich and others.
John Parker, a Cleveland attorney whose subcommittee recommended the mental-health exclusion, reasoned that the legislature is best equipped to decide the issue with advice from law enforcement, prosecutors, the public defender, mental-health experts and others.
Judge Kathleen Keough of the 8th District Court of Appeals in Cleveland said walling off the seriously mentally ill from execution is “a matter of common decency.” She said the federal courts have ruled that the mentally retarded and juveniles cannot be executed, and people with severe mental illness should be considered similarly.
Douglas Berman, an Ohio State University law professor, said there should be a “categorical exclusion” for the severely mentally ill.
- Panel: weigh mental illness in Ohio capital cases
- Group: Weigh mental death penalty
- Ohio DP Task Force recommends excluding those with “serious mental illness” from capital punishment