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Bell v. Ohio

Ohio Sentences Bell To The Death Penalty

The judges were unanimous in finding Bell guilty of aggravated murder, which occurred in the course of a kidnapping--an offense punishable by death under Ohio law. The law required that, before sentencing, the court should order a psychiatric evaluation of the defendant. The investigation of his mental state found him to be of "low . . . intellectual capability." The report noted that he had appeared in juvenile court several times, and stated that he claimed to have been using the drug mescaline on the night of the crime.

In this, the penalty phase, the panel of judges allowed both sides to speak, and now Bell testified. He said that he had been on drugs nearly every day for the three years leading up to the crime, and had been intimidated by Hall to the extent that he was highly suggestible. Hall had been like an "older brother," he said, and he was "scared" not to do what Hall told him to do. Following Bell's testimony, several of his teachers testified to his problems with drugs, his emotional instability, and his mental deficiencies. Bell's lawyer further argued that Bell was a minor, which in itself constituted a type of mental deficiency in that he did not have full understanding of the choices he was making.

The defense contended that not only Bell's youth, but his cooperation with the police and the lack of proof that he had actually participated in the killing, were all mitigating factors that presented a strong case for a penalty less than death. Furthermore, the defense moved that Ohio's death penalty law, which the state had formed in the wake of the Supreme Court case of Furman v. Georgia, should be declared unconstitutional. The Ohio statute, it was stated, was in violation of two constitutional amendments: the Eighth, which forbids cruel and unusual punishment, and the Fourteenth, which guarantees a citizen's right to the due process of law. According to the defense, the Ohio statute did not allow for the mitigating factors of Bell's age, his cooperation, and the lack of proof to be used as a basis for receiving a lesser sentence.

The judges, having concluded that none of the mitigating factors as defined by Ohio law were present, sentenced Bell to death. Bell's counsel immediately appealed the case and took it to the state supreme court, which ruled that there was sufficient evidence to establish that Bell had aided and abetted Hall--which meant, under Ohio law, that Bell could be prosecuted and punished as though he were the one who had actually pulled the trigger.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Bell v. Ohio - Significance, Ohio Sentences Bell To The Death Penalty, The High Court Strikes Down Ohio's Law