The newest addition to the Ohio Supreme Court has been quick to voice his strong opposition to the death penalty, even under the most egregious circumstances.
Justice William O’Neill, who took office on Jan. 2, last week disagreed with the rest of the court’s judges to oppose the execution of a man accused of the 1995 murder of a 10-year-old girl. In his strong dissent, O’Neill called capital punishment “inherently cruel and unusual” and therefore violates the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“Capital punishment dates back to the days when decapitations, hangings and brandings were also the norm. Surely, our society has evolved since those barbaric days,” he wrote. “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.”
The defendant in question, Jeffrey Wogenstahl, reportedly kidnapped his victim, Amber Garret, from her home in 1991, before stabbing her and beating her to death, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports.
But while O’Neill acknowledged “there can be no disputing that this was a horrific act that deserves the strongest penalty possible,” he noted that the alarming frequency of wrongful convictions and racial discrimination attached to those cases demonstrates how arbitrary those sentences can be. Since 1973, 142 people in 26 states have been released from death row after evidence of their innocence was unveiled, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
So could this be a signal that Ohio is on its way to becoming the 18th state to outlaw capital punishment? Not quite.
The Plain Dealer reports that even Justice Paul Pfeifer, a vocal opponent of Ohio’s death penalty, did not side with O’Neill -- the court’s lone Democrat -- in the recent decision.
O’Neill, who has worked as a trial attorney, appeals court judge and pediatric emergency room nurse, made a name for himself during his Supreme Court judicial campaign by ousting the incumbent judge without accepting any campaign contributions.
“I am not implying that justice is for sale. I am stating it as a matter of fact,” O’Neill told the progressive website ThinkProgress in November, explaining his platform.