What Quentin Smith's Sentencing Says About The Death Penalty In Ohio

Nov 7, 2019

Quentin Smith, convicted of murdering two Westerville Police officers in February 2018, narrowly avoided a death sentence this week.

"The Quentin Smith case was, even for today, a classic death penalty case. Killing a police officer in Ohio is a death penalty specification, killing two or more people is," says Andrew Welsh-Huggins.

But when they returned from deliberations Wednesday, a Franklin County jury announced it had deadlocked over the decision and opted instead to sentence Smith to life in prison without parole.

Welsh-Huggins is an Associated Press reporter and author of No Winners Here Tonight: Race, Politics, and Geography in One of the Country's Busiest Death Penalty States. He's studied the death penalty in Ohio for more than a decade, and says that while Franklin County jurors have historically been reluctant to decide on capital punishment, the Smith decision is indicative of something bigger.

"This is consistent with a trend we've seen not just in Ohio but across the country where juries are less and less willing to sentence someone to death," he says.

The sentencing comes just after Gov. Mike DeWine delayed two more executions, including one scheduled for December. The delays mean this will be the first year since 2016 that Ohio hasn't carried out an execution.

DeWine has said he won't use drugs from companies who don't want them used for lethal injections, because he fears those companies will shut off the supply of all medications to the state.

"Ohio's in a very interesting situation right now," says Welsh-Huggins. "The death penalty is on the books and people are being sentenced to death but short-, and I'm going to predict long-term, it's going to be very difficult under current state law to find any drugs to use."

Still, Welsh-Huggins doesn't think those laws will change any time soon, even with some lawmakers, like Ohio House speaker Larry Householder, expressing that their support of the practice is flagging.

"I don't see the state eliminating the death penalty any time soon," he says. "I think we're getting to the point where on the books we have the death penalty, but in practice, we probably don't."