Should Indiana move on from the death penalty?

September 2, 2022 7:00 am

Indiana’s death chamber hasn’t been used since 2009. (Getty Images)

Indiana is at a crossroads with the death penalty. No one has been executed in 13 years – with at least four men on death row having exhausted all appeals years ago.

The problem is the Indiana Department of Correction doesn’t have the medications needed to carry out an execution. And it’s unclear if they are even really trying.

As Leslie Bonilla Muñiz reported, the DOC said it is looking into available options but declined to provide any details on their efforts.

Drug companies have pushed back in recent years against their medications being used in executions. It brings negative attention they don’t want.

It clearly isn’t a priority for Gov. Eric Holcomb’s administration when you consider that five states have executed 10 people so far this year – Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Alabama and Missouri. They have found ways to get the medication, as did the federal government when it executed 13 offenders under President Donald Trump.

So maybe it’s time to be intellectually honest and admit Indiana no longer has the death penalty.

No one has been added to death row since 2014. There are four pending death penalty cases, according to the Indiana Public Defender Council. A fifth was just added when Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings announced he would pursue the death penalty against Carl Roy Webb Boards II, 42, of Anderson. He is accused of fatally shooting Elwood Police Officer Noah Shahnavaz, 24, of Fishers, during a 2 a.m. traffic stop on July 31.

Instead of having eight men sit for years under the nebulous threat of death perhaps Holcomb and/or legislators should commute those sentences to life in prison without parole and join the 23 states that don’t have the death penalty.

As defense lawyer Eric Koselke told the Capital Chronicle he thinks the current situation is “cruel and unusual punishment. I mean, they’ve been there for years waiting to be executed and I can’t imagine living under that kind of pressure.”

Now, I’m not saying these men didn’t do horrible things. They are collectively responsible for murdering 15 people, including one police officer and four children.

But switching gears would certainly save money, time and effort.

The Legislative Services Agency in 2015 found the average cost of a capital-murder case tried before a jury was $789,581, more than 4.25 times greater than the average cost of a murder case tried to a jury in which the prosecution sought life without parole ($185,422).

A second assessment found death-penalty cases resolved by a plea agreement are still significantly more expensive than non-capital cases that go to trial. The $148,513 average expenditure counties paid for capital cases that were resolved by plea was 4.43 times more than their average expenditure for a life-without-parole case tried to a jury.

None of that even considers the purpose of the death penalty. Is it for punishment or deterrence?

It doesn’t really matter if Indiana has a defacto moratorium.

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Niki Kelly
Niki Kelly

Niki has covered the Indiana Statehouse since 1999 – including five governors. She has been honored by the Society of Professional Journalists and Hoosier State Press Association for stories on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, criminal justice issues and more. She also is a regular on Indiana Week in Review, a weekly public television rundown of news. She shifts her career to helm a staff of three and ensure Hoosiers know what’s really happening on the state level.