Chronicle of a failed execution

Liliana Segura, an AlterNet writer and member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, reports on the botched attempt to execute Romell Broom--who tried to help his executioners put him to death, only to leave the chamber alive.

Marching against the death penalty (Matt Beamesderfer | SW)Marching against the death penalty (Matt Beamesderfer | SW)

LAST TUESDAY afternoon, on September 17, 53-year-old Romell Broom lay strapped to a gurney inside the death chamber at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio, as "medical" staff--also known as an "execution team"--struggled to insert IVs into his arms.

The point, of course, was to kill him, by the same method currently used in every death penalty state in the country: lethal injection. It's a technique widely seen as perfectly humane, including by the U.S. Supreme Court, which last year ruled that, despite several documented executions gone awry, it does not violate the 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Nevertheless, it doesn't always go according to plan--and certainly not in Ohio. In 2006, a different Ohio prisoner named Joseph A. Clark lifted his head from the gurney after his vein collapsed and said, "It don't work, it don't work, it don't work, it ain't working," repeatedly, according to one witness. This led to "moaning, crying out and guttural noises" some 30 minutes later. An hour and a half after the execution started, Clark was finally dead.

In 2007, the execution of another Ohio prisoner, Christopher Newton, took two hours due to executioners' difficulty finding a vein.

So maybe it was the gruesome memory of these botched executions that led Broom's execution team, 30 minutes in, to leave the chamber and "take a break," according to a grim timeline of the procedure. Twelve minutes later, team members were back in the cell, trying again, only to be told another two minutes later by Terry Collins, the prison director, to take another break.

In sum, after poking and prodding for two hours, during which Broom wiped his face, wept, and attempted to help his executioners find a vein--"He turned over on his left side, slid rubber tubing designed to clarify his veins up his left arm, then began moving the arm up and down while flexing and closing and opening his fingers"--the team finally stopped, on order of Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who issued a temporary reprieve.

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JULIE WALBURN, a spokesperson for the prison described Broom as "extremely cooperative and respectful at the team," noting, "He actually attempted to help the team find an access point."

Meanwhile, Adele Shank, one of his attorneys, who was present for the execution, described her client as "traumatized." "It really hurt him, I mean physically hurt him," she said.

Indeed, by the time the whole mess came to an end, the execution team had attempted to find a vein in both his arms and "at least one leg," according to reports. A report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer described how Broom "lay back on his bed, covered his face with his hands, and cried. Another time, while sitting up, he was seen grimacing as the execution team appeared to seek a vein around his ankles."

After a brief attempt to reschedule the execution for this week, Broom is back on death row until further notice, his new execution date blocked by a federal judge.

Romell Broom was convicted of a rape and murder of a 14-year old girl in 1984. For that reason, many people say he deserves no sympathy.

Regardless, what happened to this man in Ohio's execution chamber last week should send chills down the spines of those who continue to insist that lethal injection is a humane way to kill people. Indeed, it should lead people to rethink whether the death penalty is humane at all. Even in an era when "torture" has largely lost its shock value, it would be hard to argue that this was not the least bit cruel or unusual.

A hearing on Broom's case has been scheduled for November 30.

First published at