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Former Ohio prisons director concerned about use of nitrogen suffocation in executions

Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections Director Gary Mohr speaks at the City Club of Cleveland
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Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections Director Gary Mohr speaks at the City Club of Cleveland just before he left the agency that he had headed since 2011, when he was appointed by Gov. John Kasich.

The former director of the state’s prison system is concerned about a Republican-sponsored bill that would add nitrogen gas to the law requiring lethal injection to carry out executions in Ohio. And he also now has questions about the death penalty itself.

Gary Mohr supervised 15 executions as director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction under Republican former Gov. John Kasich, including the most recent one in July 2018.

Mohr said the way a person ends life is important, even if that person is sentenced to die for his crimes.

"I'm concerned that first of all that the method is a proven method that peacefully ends life, and I'm a believer that that should be the case and certainly not just for the condemned, but for the witnesses which includes, includes the victim's family as well as the family of the condemned and our team," Mohr said in an interview. “I'm not convinced that the way a person ends life with that, with nitrogen, meets my belief that that people shouldn't struggle. And staff that are responsible for executions shouldn't be responsible for watching and the administration of someone that is struggling to end life."

Mohr was required as ODRC director to be responsible for all decisions surrounding the condemned inmate and the execution for 30 days before it, and that protocol was backed up by U.S. District Court Judge Judge Gregory Frost, a federal judge who ruled on several cases involving executions in Ohio.

"I was very, very involved and, and I know that executions have had a big impact on me and continue to," Mohr said. "And I just believe that if the law continues with executions, the method should be peaceful."

Mohr has spent most of his career in the prison system. But Mohr said carrying out executions has had a huge effect on him, and that he’s now concerned about how the death penalty is applied, and to whom.

"I'm not convinced having been personally involved in not just executions but 50 years of this work and being a prison warden for 12 years and seeing other people who have life sentences with very, very similar types of acts that generated that sentence, I'm not convinced at this point that we're executing the worst of the worst," Mohr said.
Other people who were involved in carrying out the death penalty in Ohio have also come out against it since leaving those positions. Former prisons director Terry Collins, who died in 2016, became an anti-death penalty advocate. Former Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican who saw 24 executions carried out in his two terms, said he was "developing growing reservations about it." Democratic former Gov. Ted Strickland, who was in office for 17 executions, said he feels the death penalty is "wrong" because "it's unevenly applied."

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at
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