Joe D’Ambrosio is free. He spent more than 20 years on death row, and almost two more years waiting while the state of Ohio – whose prosecutors had withheld key evidence from his defense – tried to go after him again. Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court closed the book on his case. Joe D’Ambrosio is the 140th person exonerated from U.S. death rows since 1973, and the 6th from Ohio.
Is this exoneration an example of the system working? Hardly. Mr. D’Ambrosio’s exoneration came about because of a chance meeting with a Catholic priest who was visiting another inmate. The priest, Rev. Neil Kookoothe, happened to have legal training and decided to look into the case himself. As Kevin Werner, executive director of Ohioans to Stop Executions, put it: “Coincidence is not the standard we should be comfortable with when our justice system is seeking to execute people.”
Ohio is the 2nd executingist state in the land, but problems with botched executions and wrongful convictions have triggered a serious debate about the future capital punishment in the Buckeye State. Recently, the Supreme Court judge who, as a legislator, helped write Ohio’s current death penalty law called forcefully for its repeal. A study is underway questioning how Ohio administers capital punishment. Given that the answer is likely to be “not very well”, Ohio should at least halt executions while this study is going on.