Former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Lundberg now opposes death penalty

COLUMBUS, Ohio - A former Ohio Supreme Court justice who mostly sided with the majority in cases ending in executions now opposes the death penalty.

Evelyn Lundberg Stratton told The Columbus Dispatch her objection is based on how she perceives the effectiveness of capital punishment.

"I have evolved to where I don't think the death penalty is effective," she said. "I don't have a moral inhibition. ... Overall, it's just not the best way to deal with it on a number of different levels."

The Republican said she opposed executions of mentally ill inmates and now has concluded the death penalty doesn't provide sufficient crime deterrence or closure for victims' families.

Stratton, now an attorney in private practice in Columbus, spoke Thursday to a state Supreme Court task force analyzing the effectiveness of Ohio's capital punishment law. The committee has examined racial bias in death penalty cases, ways to improve the legal representation of capital defendants and other topics. But it isn't debating whether the state should have the death penalty.

The former justice was asked to speak to the panel about her concerns with capital punishment in cases of mentally ill defendants.

Stratton told the panel she didn't have a strong overall opinion about the death penalty when she served on the court from 1996 through late last year. The state put 49 men to death by lethal injection during that time, the newspaper reported.

It's not uncommon for sitting judges to change their mind on the death penalty, and Stratton isn't the first Republican jurist in Ohio to have a change of heart on the issue.

Justice Paul Pfeifer, who helped write Ohio's death penalty law three decades ago when he was a young state senator, has argued for its end since early 2011 and called for the state to stop using capital punishment. He has questioned how the law is interpreted and contends it is applied unevenly.

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