ASHLAND – Anti-capital punishment advocates gathered to discuss ways of fighting for the termination of the death penalty Tuesday night at Ashland University.
Gail Rice, a former prison ministry worker and sister of a fallen police officer killed in the line of duty, shared her journey of advocating against the death penalty.
Her brother Bruce VanderJagt died Nov. 12, 1997, after working 13 years at the Denver Police Department as a regular patrolman, she said.
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VanderJagt was attempting to catch an armed robbery suspect when the suspect shot and killed VaderJagt and then later himself with the patrolman's service revolver, Rice said.
In her time of working with jail and prison inmates, Rice found the experience "very satisfying," she said. And in her work, she saw "such a difference for the rich and poor" in the legal system and thus, saw how the death penalty should be terminated
The death penalty, "completely violates" her Christian faith and principles, Rice said.
It cuts off possibilities of reconciliation, Rice said, noting someone innocent could die from the death penalty.
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Racial prejudice, botched criminal scenes and incompetent legal council can play a factor into a wrongful conviction, she said.
According to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, there are currently 131 inmates on death row in Ohio.
"There's no evidence the death penalty is a teller against heavy crime," she said.
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Rice began advocating to repeal the death penalty in Illinois and Colorado. Illinois's death penalty was removed in 2011 and Colorado followed suit in 2020.
"I've met many murder victims' family members," Rice said. "I've never heard 'I'm so glad the execution happened.' "
Instead in Rice's mind, it's caused "so much pain and misery."
Two Ohio bills could end the death penalty
Rebecca Simpson, from Ohioans to Stop Executions, addressed students and visitors to two death penalty related bills pending in the Ohio House and Senate: Abolish the death penalty; revise juror challenge numbers, known as House Bill 183 and Senate Bill 103.
"You may not see a vote until the primary," Simpson said.
Simpson said she believes the vote count is "comfortable" in the Senate but the House bill needs more support..
Terrie Bonfiglio, an Ashland resident and pro-life advocate, offered ways about how Ohio would benefit from removing the death penalty. In 2000, her uncle was murdered in Tampa, Florida, she said.
"When you do a murder trial, it has to be unanimous consent jury," Bonfiglio said. "There was one juror who said 'no.' … There were times it would get delayed for several months. This just went on and on and everytime that happened those wounds were reopened."
Known as a trained economist, Bonfiglio is finding a "hard time justifying how we're using so much taxpayer money" when it comes to death penalty cases, citing the increased cost in death cases.
"What if we had no death penalty?" Bonfiglio asked. "What if we took that and did more as a country to reintegrate prisoners back into society? What if we used the money for counseling to help them actually close their wounds?"
Reach Grant at firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter @ritchey_grant
Phone 1-419-281-0581, ext. 259
This article originally appeared on Ashland Times Gazette: Ashland University hosts event advocating to end the death penalty