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Dead Man Talking

Survivor of Ohio’s latest botched execution speaks out

By Damian Guevara · October 7th, 2009 · News
Romell Broom achieved a macabre notoriety this past month when he became the first man to survive his date with the needle. Not just in Ohio, but anywhere.

Broom, a convicted rapist and murderer, endured more than two hours of poking and stabbing before his execution was called off indefinitely. His executioners could not find a vein to install intravenous shunts, and they prodded him with needles at least 18 times to no avail, says Tim Sweeney, his lawyer.

The eyes of the world are on Ohio now, and many are questioning our death-penalty apparatus.

It was the first time an execution was called off while in progress, but it wasn’t the first time our executioners unintentionally prolonged their work.

In 2006, inmate Joseph Clark uttered “It don’t work” as his handlers bungled an IV attachment and delayed his doom for more than an hour. In 2007, techs took close to two hours to find a vein and put down obese inmate Christopher Newton; at one point, they granted Newton a restroom break.

Broom lived to tell his tale in an affidavit filed in Columbus federal court days after surviving the death chamber. He described his time on a prep table as two technicians struggled to find veins in his arms. Blood gushed as they pricked him. At one point, “The female (technician) left the room,” writes Broom. “The correction officer asked her if she was OK. She responded ‘no’ and walked out.

“I tried to assist them by helping to tie my own arm,” recounts Broom. Witnesses said Broom turned on his side and flexed his arms to further assist. A third tech came into the room, and the workers repeatedly stabbed Broom in the arms, right ankle, lower right leg and right hand. Broom said he bled, bruised and felt a needle hit his ankle bone.

When Ohio prison director Terry Collins came into the room to tell Broom that the execution would be postponed, “Collins indicated that he appreciated my cooperation and noted my attempts to help the team.”

Complications have confounded the Ohio execution team in one out of every 11 lethal injections.

Prison officials have defended their employees, a group of at least a dozen men and women whose anonymity remains protected by court order.

In the face of international scrutiny, prison officials continue to defend Ohio’s death team. “We believe they do a job most people couldn’t do,” says Julie Walburn, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. “We believe they do it professionally and appropriately.”

All states that practice capital punishment maintain strict privacy policies, with California ranking as the most open, says Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. This shroud poses a fundamental problem for states looking to defend their actions when questions arise. “With the fact that these mistakes happen, the explanation of ‘Trust me, we’re doing this right,’ loses credibility,” says Dieter. “There needs to be access, observation, to see what’s claimed is what really happens.

“This is about keeping control of public perception, that lethal injection is antiseptic, a pain-free method,” he adds. “It could be said that a firing squad or the guillotine are quicker and painless, but people don’t want to go there.”

Critics of the death penalty say a lack of public review fosters secrecy and denies accountability. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio (ACLU) filed a publicrecords request in an attempt to learn more about execution preparations, says Carrie Davis, the ACLU’s lawyer. There’s no way to judge execution teams’ credentials or work history, and because the state doesn’t request autopsies of the dead inmates, there’s no way to determine if the drugs were administered correctly.

“These people are carrying out a statesanctioned killing in our name,” says Davis.

“These are our tax dollars at work. This is not a private enterprise. They are state employees.”

Problems with lethal injection forced Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to temporarily delay capital punishment in 2006 after an autopsy showed that the chemicals had infiltrated the muscle tissue instead of the bloodstream of Angel Diaz. New Jersey temporarily halted the death penalty as it revised its execution procedures, but abolished the practice in 2007 after a larger debate on capital punishment. Maryland, California and North Carolina have frozen their systems as they debate policy.

Ohio is the only state that has a law that requires a quick and painless execution, and Sweeney argues the state hasn’t fulfilled that requirement.

“I think there are serious questions of whether the state is using the right people to carry out a relatively complex procedure,” he says. “If the drug isn’t administered properly, the inmate will assuredly be tortured to death.”

Gov. Ted Strickland has postponed Ohio’s next two executions until spring 2010 so an alternative protocol can be developed.

DAMIAN GUEVARA writes for Cleveland Scene, where a longer version of this story first appeared.



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