Thursday, September 17, 2009

Lethal Injection's First Survivor

Inmate Rommell Broom became the first person in the U.S. to actually survive a lethal injection attempt Tuesday night in Ohio:

The State of Ohio plans to try again next week to execute a convicted rapist-murderer, after a team of technicians spent two hours on Tuesday in an unsuccessful effort to inject him with lethal drugs.

This is the first time an execution by lethal injection in the United States has failed and then been rescheduled, according to Richard C. Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, in Washington.

The only similar case in modern times, Mr. Dieter said, occurred in Louisiana in 1946, when electric shock failed to kill a convicted murderer, Willie Francis. He was electrocuted the next year, after the United States Supreme Court ruled that executing a prisoner in the wake of a failed first attempt was constitutional.
We just discussed Willie Francis a few weeks ago in 3150. If I recall correctly, Louisiana was attempting to mimic Mississippi in test-driving (so to speak) its portable electric chair. Known affectionately as "Gruesome Gertie," they would drive the chair around the state on the back of a pickup truck, executing inmates outside the local jail and saving money on inmate transportation costs.

In the Francis case, the town transformer blew when they threw the switch. He received a one year stay, only to die the following year, in the same chair. Other than that, there has never been a failed execution where the inmate lived, until two days ago. And unlike Willie Francis, Rommell Broom may only get one week worth of reprieve.
Tuesday’s one-week postponement was ordered by Gov. Ted Strickland after he was alerted by the Ohio corrections department that technicians at the state prison in Lucasville, some 70 miles east of Cincinnati, had struggled for more than two hours to find a suitable vein in either the arms or the legs of the inmate.

His lawyers described what happened Tuesday as torture and said they would try to block the execution. One of them, Adele Shank, said: “He survived this execution attempt, and they really can’t do it again. It was cruel and unusual punishment.”

Ms. Shank watched Tuesday’s procedure on closed-circuit television. “I could see him on the screen,” she said, “and it was apparent to me that he was wincing with pain.”

The Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday that the state must abolish lethal injection.

“This is the third screwed-up execution in three years,” said Jeffrey M. Gamso of the A.C.L.U. of Ohio. “They keep tweaking their protocol, but it takes more than tweaks. They don’t know how to do this competently, and they need to stop.”
I'm sure corrections officials in Texas are having a hearty laugh. "Y'all need to come down here and let us show you how to do it." But if you think Ohio is not going to man-up and bring it, think again. Don't Mess With Ohio, according to its corrections director and other death penalty supporters.

The director of the state corrections department, Terry J. Collins, said he and his staff were seeking the advice of doctors and others to plan for a successful execution next Tuesday.

“I won’t have discussions about ‘what if it doesn’t work next week’ at this point,” Mr. Collins said, “because I have confidence that my team will be able to do its job.”

Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which supports the death penalty, said problems with veins were inevitable in lethal injection by IV.

Mr. Scheidegger said he favored execution methods involving intramuscular injection or a return to gas chambers, but with a poison other than cyanide, which was long under attack because of the suffering it can inflict.
Damn straight. Let's move backward towards a method of execution we know doesn't work, rather than improving the protocols of the current method. Even funnier is Scheidegger's blog post on this wherein he writes, "I've had a few unsuccessful needle insertions in my day. It's a pain, but it's not torture." LOL.

My question is: what's going through Broom's mind? How did it feel to know your demise was literally minutes away, only to find yourself back in your cell (with butchered veins), a national celebrity, and yet another appointment next week with the Grim Reaper?

Does that rise to the level of cruel and unusual punishment?

UPDATE: This topic has been updated since September, most recently here, here and here.

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