Ohio recorded 652 murders in 1989, sentenced eight killers to death that year, and has scheduled a Wednesday February 12 execution for one who confessed, Richard Fox. State law permits execution for the worst murderers, where aggravating circumstances outweigh mitigating factors beyond a reasonable doubt. The Ohio criminal justice system singled out Richard Fox as its most deserving killer of the year because of geography and judicial error.

Fox deceived eighteen-year old Leslie Klecker into accompanying him in his car; when she rejected his advances he stabbed and strangled her in a fit of anger. He made an inadmissible confession prior to representation by counsel, disputed the kidnapping charge at trial, and acknowledged his guilt at the sentencing. The Wood county prosecutor decided to ask for the death penalty, and the victim©ˆs family approved; prosecutors in many other Ohio counties would have sought a life term based on his personal history or if the victim©ˆs family objected to execution. Several judges on the Ohio Appeals Court and Supreme Court found that the trial panel in sentencing Fox failed to provide the required explanation of its reasoning and by law should have imposed a life term.

The trial court did not convict Fox of planning the murder, but its opinion appears to weigh such unproven premeditation to kill as a decisive aggravating factor more significant than all the mitigating evidence presented--admission of guilt, expression of remorse, testimony by numerous witnesses to prior good citizenship and community service, sensitive care for his daughter, model behavior in prison where he rescued a diabetic inmate, expert opinion about a psychological disorder, and his six year old child Jessicaˆs well being.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Craig Wright joined by A.W. Sweeney dissented from the decision affirming Fox©ˆs death sentence, as did Judge James Sherck on the Court of Appeals; after leaving the bench Wright opposed the execution in statements to the Ohio Parole Authority and other venues. Jeffrey Sutton, nominated by President Bush to serve on the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, has petitioned the Ohio Supreme Court to grant Fox a new sentencing hearing.

The American Bar Association has called for a moratorium on executions because of serious defects in the criminal justice system. Non-partisan expert commissions in Illinois and Maryland concluded that their state systems have not made reliable judgments about guilt or innocence and which killers should be sentenced to death. Two days before leaving office, Republican Governor George Ryan emptied the Illinois death row and declared: ¯Our capital system is haunted by the demon of error . . . in determining who among the guilty deserves to die.˜

There is neither deterrence nor justice when our state singles out a single murderer such as Richard Fox as a symbol of our outrage at the 652 killings committed in 1989. Less than 2 per cent of murders result in death sentences for convicted killers. There were 4,830 murders recorded in Ohio from 1983-1990, 81 men were sentenced to death in those years, and since 1999 five convicts (O.1%) have been executed for those crimes.

The lengthy judicial proceedings, expensive death row incarceration, and execution of Richard Fox has cost Ohio far more than our taxpayers would have expended to imprison him for life; yet even at a time of extraordinary state and local budget deficits, money should not be the decisive factor. The cost to our collective humanity is far greater.

When Fox petitioned the Ohio Parole Authority for a life term, his daughter Jessica pleaded for his life; the victimˆs younger brother Chad argued for execution. Unlike the families of victims whose killers were sentenced to a life term in 1989, the Keckler family has sustained the false hope that a death row inmateˆs execution will somehow assuage their inconsolable grief. Murder Victim©ˆs Families for Reconciliation and Sister Helen Prejean offer compelling evidence that executing Richard Fox will create another victim‹Jessica Fox‹without remedying the Keckler©ˆs terrible loss. How does the state fairly determine which families see an execution and which must accept life term for the killer? The repeated political spectacle of bereaved victims and families of the condemned crying before the cameras affronts the dignity of all.

On February 12 an anonymous team of Ohio executioners will administer a lethal cocktail of three drugs to Richard Fox. Doctors taking the Hippocratic Oath swear to ¯Do no harm.˜ After the drugs take effect, an Ohio doctor screened from witnesses by a curtain will certify that life has ended; the official certificate will indicate ¯homicide˜ as the cause of death.

Richard Fox should serve a life term for killing Leslie Keckler. His daughter Jessica lost her mother while a young child, and the state should not take her father©ˆs life. Vengeance belongs to the Lord, not to the victim©ˆs family, not to elected prosecutors and politicians. All the other democracies in Western Christendom have abolished the death penalty, just as they abolished slavery years before the U.S. followed. After five executions since 1999, Ohio has 207 inmates on death row and mounting opposition to a flawed legal system and to a cycle of violence that produces new victims.