News & Politics

Chronicle of a Failed Execution: Ohio Prisoner "Traumatized" After Two-Hour Death Chamber Ordeal

53-year-old Romell Broom wept and tried to help his executioners find a vein, only to leave the death chamber alive. This isn't "cruel and unusual punishment"?

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, OH, 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, upon order of Ohio governor Ted Strickland, who issued a temporary reprieve.

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."

"It really hurt him, I mean physically hurt him," she said.

It was the first time in U.S. history that such an execution had been suspended as it was carried out.

Liliana Segura is a staff writer and editor of AlterNet's Rights and Liberties and World Special Coverage.
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