‘I Don’t Want to Grow Old Here’: The Endless Sentence of Ohio’s Death Row

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Chillicothe Correctional Institution, Ohio.

Is life without parole more frightening than the prospect of being executed by the state?

Ohio Sen. Nickie Antonio, a Democrat who opposed capital punishment, believes that it is― after speaking with some inmates who have been housed on death row in Ohio for long periods.

“I have sat and talked to people on death row, and they have said to me, ‘I don’t want to grow old and die here; I want them to put me to death,” she said, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

However, that isn’t true for all inmates housed within Chillicothe Correctional Institution, the only death row prison in the state of Ohio, where 136 people are facing execution.

“Life without parole is good for everybody,” Shawn Grate, a death row inmate at Chillicothe, said in an interview with The Crime Report.

In 2018, Grate was convicted of two counts of aggravated murder. In 2019, he pleaded guilty to three additional murders.

He has been on death row for nearly three years, and he believes he will stay there indefinitely, especially since lawmakers recently announced that lethal injection is no longer a viable option for carrying out executions in Ohio.

Ironically, this decision came only two days before Grate appeared in court to appeal his death sentence conviction. However, on Dec. 10, Grate’s death sentence was still upheld.

“It’s expected, you know,” he said calmly. “It always gets denied the first time, but later on in the higher up courts, they may see my arguments.

“There are people who got 25 to 30 years in—they’re not looking to execute anyone anytime soon.”

Nonetheless, the recent decision to do away with lethal injection in Ohio forces death row inmates to wonder not only when will they be executed, but how.

Alabama, Oklahoma and Mississippi have approved the use of nitrogen gas, Washington has allowed inmates to request hanging, and Utah permits inmates sentenced prior to 2004 to ask for the firing squad.

Yet two states that have carried out executions in 2019 and 2020 have used the same drug cocktail Ohio uses, which has prompted Lou Tobin, director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association to ask, “How are these other states and the federal government getting the drugs, but Ohio can’t?”

In 2011, manufacturers stopped selling drugs for lethal injections. However, some states such as Arizona and Oklahoma tried to use alternatives like the controversial drug midazolam, which led to several botched executions.

“Lethal injection appears to us to be impossible from a practical point of view,” Ohio Gov. Mike Dewine has confirmed.

In turn, Ohio is left with three options: legalize a new method of execution, continue the current moratorium indefinitely, or abolish capital punishment all together. The last option is one that has been discussed by lawmakers, but as Grate emphasized last week, “There’s always been something said about doing away with it, you know, but it never happens.

“So, I don’t really have much faith in it.”

He continued, “It’s just costing the taxpayers way too much, all around the United States…and the victims’ families have to …hear something about every appeal…the waiting and carrying out the actual justice, the justice that was promised.”

maria dilorenzo

Maria Dilorenzo

Ohio’s last execution took place in 2018, and Dewine has already confirmed that all executions will be suspended in 2021, which to some inmates may serve as good news.

However, to others, this news functions only as a temporary solution, which has the potential to make time harder to do in the long run, since there are so many unknown variables about the fate of each of these 136 individuals.

“It’s a bad situation all around,” said Grate.

Maria DiLorenzo, based in Brooklyn, NY, has written for various publications, including the Alaska Quarterly Review, the Flea, Real Crime, and VTPost.com. She currently working on a true crime novel about the life and crimes of Maksim Gelman, and recently started a blog called Beyond the Crime, which shares stories of those incarcerated for murder to gain a deeper understanding of criminal behavior and the criminal justice system. 

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