Gov. John Kasich decided Thursday to temporarily postpone Ohio's next scheduled execution to give the state time to address a federal judge's concerns that the death penalty is being administered inconsistently.
Kasich delayed the scheduled Aug. 16 execution of 37-year-old Brett Hartman until Nov. 13, 2012. The governor's decision comes a day after the Ohio Parole Board voted unanimously against mercy for Hartman in the 1997 killing of an Akron woman.
On July 8, U.S. District Court Judge Gregory L. Frost delayed the execution of death row inmate Kenneth Wayne Smith, which had been scheduled for July 19. Frost agreed with Smith that the state enforces some of its execution policies haphazardly and calling the situation an embarrassment.
"Ohio pays lip service to standards it then often ignores without valid reasons, sometimes with no physical ramifications and sometimes with what have been described as messy if not botched executions," Frost wrote.
Kasich said Thursday's postponement will allow the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to fix problems found by Frost. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine opted not to appeal the ruling, which will allow Smith to argue in an upcoming trial that the state violates the U.S. Constitution with its uneven application of its rules for executing inmates.
Smith and other inmates argue that Ohio too often strays from its execution policies by not always having the required number of execution-team members present and not always documenting the mixing of drugs. Frost agreed in four areas.
His ruling did not judge whether Ohio's death penalty itself was constitutional.
Carlo LoParo, a spokesman for the prisons department, said the state is making adjustments in light of Frost's decision.
"They were procedures not established by the court or the Legislature, but established by this department," he said. "We feel our procedures and practices are constitutional, but we are using the judge's decision as an opportunity to improve those policies and practices to not only satisfy the court but the public as well."
How the ruling will impact executions beyond Smith's and Hartman's was unclear. The execution of inmate Billy Slagle is scheduled for Sept. 20 and is still on schedule "at present," the governor's statement said.
LoParo said he believes there is ample time before that date to address Frost's temporary restraining order. He said the department will work out the policy adjustments and submit them to the court.
Hartman came within about a week of being executed in 2009 before a federal appeals court allowed him to pursue an innocence claim.
Hartman was sentenced to death for killing 46-year-old Winda Snipes. She was stabbed more than 100 times, then had her hands cut off.
The eight-member Parole Board recommended Kasich deny clemency, citing the brutality of his crime. In its decision, the board cited what it described as "overwhelming evidence" of Hartman's guilt.