To the Editor:
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer has been traveling Ohio campaigning for the repeal of Ohio’s death penalty. This is somewhat disconcerting since one of his jobs as an Ohio Supreme Court Justice is to rule on cases before that court involving the death penalty.
Recently he has taken to criticizing me, as the Hamilton County Prosecutor, for my decisions in determining which crimes to charge as death-eligible aggravated murder cases. On Jan. 19, he was quoted in the Bucyrus Telegraph Forum as stating that Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters believes all murders are death penalty cases. One month earlier, Justice Pfeifer testified in front of the Ohio legislature in favor of repealing the death penalty. After his testimony, he again stated I was abusing my discretion by treating too many murders as death penalty cases. He specifically recommended I follow the charging practices of Cuyahoga and Franklin counties.
Justice Pfeifer is clearly not familiar with the issue. The Ohio Supreme Court Capital Indictment Index reflects that from 1981 through 2010 there were approximately 3,110 death penalty indictments in Ohio. Cuyahoga County indicted about 1,215 of them. Franklin County indicted about 497.
Hamilton County, the county Justice Pfeifer believes treats every murder as a death penalty case, only indicted 162. Further, based on information compiled by the Ohio Attorney General, Hamilton County obtained a sentence of death in 37 percent of its indictments. Franklin and Cuyahoga counties succeeded at about a four to five percent rate respectively. Obviously, Justice Pfeifer’s comments are factually incorrect.
There are two important conclusions to be drawn. First of all, Justice Pfeifer’s continued participation in deciding death penalty cases is inappropriate. It gives rise to a credible inference that he cannot be fair to both sides. Second, his false public criticisms of me indicate he has absolutely no business sitting in judgment of cases from Hamilton County. In fairness, he should remove himself from every death penalty case.
Imagine if United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas were to make public statements that he found the Roe vs. Wade decision no longer valid and made public pronouncements calling for a ban on abortion. Further, imagine if Justice Thomas continued to hear cases impacting Roe vs. Wade. The outcry from the public and the media would be extreme. Ohioans should be no less offended by Justice Pfeifer.
Joseph T. Deters
Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney