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January 12 2010 | UNITED STATES


Lawyers challenge Ohio on Romell Broom's case

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The New York Times

Lawyers Challenge Ohio on Executions


January 12, 2010

Proper training of prison officials could have prevented a botched execution in Ohio last year that led the state to overhaul its method of execution, lawyers for several death row inmates have argued in court filings.

The filings contend that Ohio prison officials have shown a consistent disregard for their own rules in carrying out executions, including failing to ensure that execution staff members attend required rehearsals and training.

And they contend that one of the people who helped conduct the botched execution on Sept. 15, involving an inmate named Romell Broom, was inadequately trained and had failed to attend all the required rehearsals.

That employee is a licensed emergency medical technician, but has not worked as one for several years, does not regularly establish IVs and was out of practice at the time of Mr. Broom’s attempted execution, according to the court documents filed Friday in Federal District Court in Columbus.

Mr. Broom, 53, was convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing Tryna Middleton, 14, in 1984. At his scheduled execution, prison officials stuck him repeatedly with a needle for nearly two hours in a failed effort to find a usable vein. Gov. Ted Strickland ordered the execution halted.

“Were prison staff appropriately trained and if prison officials followed protocol, they might have avoided the sort of cruel and unconstitutional treatment that Mr. Broom faced,” said Adele Shank, one of Mr. Broom’s lawyers, adding that she intended to try to prevent the state from going forward with her client’s execution.

“The state got their chance with Mr. Broom,” Ms. Shank said. “They failed to execute him, and, in the process, they violated his constitutional right to avoid cruel and unusual punishment. So we are arguing it would be further cruelty for them to try again.”

State prison officials declined to comment because of the pending litigation. But they have said they believe the state’s new protocols are effective and not painful.

Lawyers for other death row inmates said they hoped to stop all executions in Ohio until the state’s execution protocols were brought up to constitutional standards and there were better guarantees that those protocols would be followed.

In a 2008 ruling that upheld the three-drug cocktail Kentucky used in executions, the Supreme Court rejected the claim that it posed an unconstitutional risk of a condemned inmate’s suffering acute yet undetectable pain.

But Allen L. Bohnert, a death row lawyer in Ohio, said the decision by the Supreme Court that the three-drug cocktail was constitutional was based on the faulty assumption that states followed protocol, when in Ohio, he said, that was proving not to be true.

In the attempted execution of Mr. Broom and in the June execution of Daniel Wilson, state prison officials ignored the requirement that they conduct three reviews of the inmates’ veins shortly before the execution to ensure that they had accessible veins, Mr. Bohnert said.

In the execution of Marvallous Keene last summer, prison officials ignored the requirement to establish two functional IV sites before starting the execution, the filings said.

On the day of Mr. Broom’s scheduled execution, state officials asked a doctor to help find a usable vein, even though that doctor had not received any of the training required to participate in an execution, the filings said.

In November, Ohio became the first state to say it would switch to a single drug, rather than a three-drug cocktail, in its death penalty procedure.

Critics have long argued that using a single drug, the preferred method in animal euthanasia, is more humane than the three-drug cocktail, which involves a short-acting barbiturate to render the inmate unconscious, followed by a paralytic and then a chemical to stop the heart.

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