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Average Cost Of Death Penalty In Hamilton County Is Over $1 Million, Group Finds

Statehouse News Bureau
Hamilton County wastes more than a million a year by sentencing defendants to death row, says a new report.

A Cincinnati social justice agency working to end the death penalty in Ohio is out with a new report, calulating its cost and arguing it's randomly applied.

The Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center(IJPC) says, "The arbitrary injustice of capital punishment is made increasingly senseless when considering its exorbitant cost to counties and state government."

In its latest report, the group looked at eight cases that exhausted all appeals. After the defendants received a death penalty the sentence was later reduced. IJPC came to the conclusion that the average cost of a death penalty case in Hamilton County is over $1 million, double the cost of trying a life without parole case.

"By trying and failing to secure a death sentence for just these eight cases, Hamilton County wasted over $8 million," the group says.

It calculated the following Hamilton County cases:

  • Shawn Hawkins: $1,343,253.66
  • Richard Nields: $948,690.79
  • Michael Bies: $981,450.03
  • Jeffrey Hill: $922,832.40
  • Raymond Tibbets: $1,228,942.37
  • Angelo Fears: $1,410.834.78
  • Darryl Gumm: $440.044.76
  • Rayshawn Johnson: $1,353,852.67

According to the group, "These costs are conclusively wasteful and negligent, considering that capital punishment fails to serve any purpose other than revenge."
The report cites a 2017 Dayton Daily News article as proof the entire state was overspending. It reported Ohio was spending close to $17 million per year.

A better solution would be investing in communities, IJPC advocates. It recommends increased access to mental health care, relieving the burden carried by social workers, rethinking community safety and increasing services for murder victims' families


The report points out what it says are disparities, both geographic and racial. "Hamilton County's execution rate is more than double the execution rate in Cuyahoga and nearly nine times the rate in Franklin County. Together, these three counties are responsible for almost 60% of all Ohio's capital indictments."

"Fifty-three percent of Black people sit on Ohio's death row for killing at least one white person, the report says," while only 5% of white people are there for killing a Black person."

Ultimately, the IJPC hopes to spark a larger conversation about what it sees as a resource drain and it makes recommendations on how to re-allocate capital punishment funds. "IJPC invites readers to imagine more productive ways our counties and state could spend millions of dollars."

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters responded to the report and said:

The Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center might be surprised to know that I agree with many of their suggestions and comments. I support efforts to strengthen our community and provide mental health services, counseling and other programs to help people lead a productive life. In fact, I contribute money from the forfeiture fund to many agencies doing this important work.

But he takes issue with this from IJPC: "Of the 62 people sent to death row from Hamilton County since 1981, 25 of them were eventually removed (by commutation, judicial action, exoneration, etc.)," he says.

"While some Hamilton County death penalty cases have been reversed on a procedural issue or the governor has granted mercy through his commutation power, no death penalty defendant from Hamilton County has been 'exonerated' or found 'innocent,' " Deters writes in a statement. " 'Innocent' to me means that the defendant did NOT commit the crime."

According to the prosecutor, "If the citizens of Ohio want the law changed, they should contact their state representative and let him or her know. I have no quarrel with that. However, I am bound to follow the law and I will continue to do so."

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.