Commentary: Another Failed Execution Attempt in Ohio.

On September 15, 2009, the state tried, but failed, to execute Romell Broom. The execution team couldn’t find a good vein, failing to insert a catheter after pricking Broom 18 times, for nearly two hours, during which time Broom reportedly covered his eyes and began to cry from the pain.  The execution attempt was finally called off.  In 2016, Broom tried, but failed by a vote of 4-3, to persuade the Supreme Court of Ohio that any further attempt to execute him would be unconstitutional.  Read more about that here. Most importantly, what happened to Broom was never supposed to happen again.

Since the failed attempt to execute Broom, Ohio successfully carried out 21 executions.  Then came Dennis McGuire January 16, 2014.  Because more and more drug companies began to refuse to allow their drugs to be used to kill people, Ohio was forced to try a new combination of drugs on McGuire. It was widely reported that McGuire was choking and gasping for air for 25 minutes before he died.

Executions were temporarily halted in Ohio until October of 2016, when the state announced its intent to resume them. Ronald Phillips, Gary Ott, and Raymond Tibbets, all of whom were scheduled to be executed in 2017, filed yet another challenge to Ohio’s much-litigated death penalty protocol. Ohio’s current lethal injection protocol consists of midazolam, which is supposed to make the person being executed feel no pain; either vecuronium bromide, pancuronium bromide, or rocuronium bromide, which are paralytics; and  potassium chloride, which stops the heart.

The three inmates went to federal court seeking a stay of execution, arguing that Ohio’s new lethal injection cocktail would subject them to a painful death in violation of the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In January of 2017, after a five day evidentiary hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Merz agreed with the inmates, finding that “the use of midazolam as the first drug in Ohio’s present three-drug protocol will create a ‘substantial risk of serious harm’” to the prisoners.” He enjoined the executions.

An appeal by the state followed Merz’s ruling.  Initially, in April, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld Merz’s decision.  But then, the Appeals Court decided to hear the matter en banc, and on June 28, 2017, in an 8-6 decision  overturned Merz’s injunction and the earlier three judge panel decision, allowing the executions to proceed.  Phillips and Ott have since been executed; Tibbetts’ execution was stayed until February 13, 2018.

This brings us to Alva Campbell.  Make no mistake. Campbell committed heinous crimes.  That’s a given. Campbell is now 69 years old and in miserable health.  He uses a walker to get around. According to a filing by his lawyers, he suffers from lung cancer, COPD, respiratory failure, and prostate cancer. He uses a colostomy bag. He has been a two-pack-a-day smoker. Now, he has to take oxygen treatments four times a day.

Campbell was scheduled to be executed on November 15, 2017. He was given a special wedge-shaped pillow to help him breathe better during the execution. Does this sound like a dystopian novel? His photo looks like a strong wind could knock him over and kill him.  But not Ohio’s current drug protocol, so recently approved by the Sixth Circuit.  As with Romell Broom, the execution team couldn’t find a usable vein to put the IV in, even though that was never supposed to happen again, and, like Broom, Campbell was unsuccessfully stuck many times, and his execution had to be called off.  So, of the three failed execution attempts in modern times, Ohio now gets to claim two of them. Is that a claim to fame any of us in Ohio wants?

Campbell’s execution has been re-set to June 5, 2019.





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