Ohio Inmate Fights Execution Based on Age at Time of Murders

CLEVELAND (CN) – An Ohio death-row inmate claims that a recent Kentucky court ruling that declared the death penalty a disproportionate punishment for offenders under the age of 21 renders his sentence unconstitutional.

Gary Otte – who committed two murders at the age of 20 – says in a lawsuit filed Monday in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court that an Aug. 1 court decision in Kentucky “correctly found there is objective indicia of a national consensus against executing offenders under the age of twenty-one.”

Otte alleges the Fayette County Circuit Court decision in Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Bredhold was “based on a current scientific understanding that the brain development and the emotional development of such youthful offenders categorically reduces their culpability for the death penalty.”

Otte, who is scheduled to be executed Sept. 13, robbed and shot two people on consecutive nights in February 1992. He was convicted on two counts of aggravated murder by a three-judge panel in September that year and sentenced to death.

His Ohio lawsuit cites extensively from Bredhold, which noted that “through the use of functional magnetic resonance … scientists of the late 1990s and early 2000s discovered that key brain systems and structures, especially those involved in self-regulation and higher-order cognition, continue to mature through an individual’s late teens.”

“Further study of brain development conducted in the past ten years has shown that these key brain systems and structures actually continue to mature well into the mid-twenties; this notion is now widely accepted among neuroscientists,” the Bredhold decision continued.

Otte argues the lack of brain development at a younger age “translates into a diminished ‘ability to exercise self-control, to properly consider the risks and rewards of alternative courses of action, and to resist coercive pressure from others. Thus, one may be intellectually mature but also socially and emotionally immature.’”

The Bredhold ruling held that “offenders under the age of twenty-one ‘lack maturity to control their impulses and fully consider both the risks and rewards of an action, making them unlikely to be deterred by knowledge of likelihood and severity of punishments … [and] have a much better chance at rehabilitation than do adults.”

Otte seeks an order declaring that Ohio’s death penalty statute as applied to him is unconstitutional because he was 20 years old at the time he committed his crimes. The state of Ohio is the only defendant named in his lawsuit.

He is represented by Joseph Wilhelm, an assistant federal public defender in Cleveland.

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