A day after another failed execution in Ohio, Gov. John Kasich’s office says the state’s capital-punishment protocol doesn’t need to change.
Meanwhile, civil-rights advocates say the latest failure could be used as evidence in future challenges to the constitutionality of Ohio’s death-penalty law.
Kasich was forced to grant a reprieve for Alva Campbell on Wednesday when a medical team in the death chamber at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville determined that it couldn’t find two suitable veins in his arms or legs to carry out his lethal injection. Campbell, 69, had been strapped to a gurney and poked and prodded for about 30 minutes when the team made the determination.
The failure of the execution appears to be just the third in modern U.S. history — and the second to occur in Ohio during the past decade.
Campbell’s ill health presaged a difficult execution. But in 2009, the state also was forced to halt the execution of a younger, healthier man, Romell Broom, 53, after two hours of trying to find suitable veins.
And in 2014, another problem execution took place, when Dennis McGuire choked and struggled for about 10 minutes before dying. The state stopped executions until earlier this year, when it successfully executed Ronald Phillips in July. It also successfully executed Gary Otte in September.
Then came the attempt to execute Campbell on Wednesday.
State law requires that the condemned be executed by lethal injection. The state’s execution protocol meticulously sets out how lethal injection is performed.
In the wake of Wednesday’s problems, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said he would want to see a full report on what happened before deciding whether the state’s protocol needs to be changed.
When asked Thursday whether Campbell’s failed execution shows the need for change, Kasich spokesman John Keeling simply said no.
In any case, there may be no better alternative, said Mike Brickner, senior policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.
Because of long years of sedentary living on death row, smoking and a possible history of intravenous drug use, the veins of condemned people are likely to be harder to locate than those of the population at large, Brickner said. And, because professional associations for doctors and nurses oppose the death penalty, the most-qualified medical professionals are unlikely to participate in executions, he said. In addition, the death house doesn’t have the medical equipment that hospitals have to locate hard-to-find-veins.
Groups opposed to the death penalty say that taking convicts such as Campbell and Broom to the death house a second time violates Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment and even the Fifth Amendment provision that no person “be subject for the same offense to twice be put in jeopardy of life or limb.”
“It’s like tying someone to the stake (before a firing squad) and missing,” said Abe Bonowitz, of Ohioans to Stop Executions. “It’s like a mock execution.”
Mock executions, Bonowitz said, are widely considered to be torture.
Broom’s lawyers made the constitutional arguments to the Ohio Supreme Court, which in 2012 rejected them. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, and Broom is now scheduled for execution on June 17, 2020.
But just because the high court declined to hear Broom’s case doesn’t mean it will reject every future such case filed by an Ohio inmate, Brickner said. And, he added, Campbell’s failed execution Wednesday likely will be used as further evidence in challenging Ohio’s method.
Ironically, Brickner said, Ohio and other states moved to lethal injection because concerns arose about the humanity of executing people by firing squad, electrocution, hanging or in the gas chamber. Ohio’s problems with the current method point to a deeper problem, he said.
“There really is no humane way to kill a person,” Brickner said.