The New York Times
October 3, 2009
Editorial - Botched Executions
Ohio’s attempt to execute Romell Broom last month by lethal injection was the death penalty at its most barbaric. Even after that horribly botched failed execution, the state wants to continue putting people to death, starting next week. Ohio should at the very least call a moratorium so it can ensure that it has the technical competence to put people to death humanely. But every state should use this shameful moment to question whether they ought to be putting people to death at all.
The execution team in Ohio spent about two hours trying to access a vein on Mr. Broom’s arms and legs. They stuck him with a needle about 18 times, returning to areas that were already bruised. In one case, the needle reportedly hit a bone. Mr. Broom tried to help, pointing to veins, massaging his arms to keep a vein open and straightening tubes. At one point, some witnesses suggested he was crying.
Mr. Broom’s case is extraordinary because his execution was actually halted and he was returned to death row. Botched executions, however, are far too common. The Death Penalty Information Center has a harrowing list on its Web site.
In an Alabama electrocution, flames erupted from the electrode attached to a prisoner’s leg, and even after his flesh burned, doctors found a heartbeat. In Florida in 2006, a prisoner required two lethal injections to die. After the first, he seemed to grimace and mouth words.
The Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to Kentucky’s use of lethal injection last year, but it left open the possibility that lethal injection could be cruel and unusual in some circumstances. The record in that case was thin, but Ohio’s use of lethal injection raises more obvious concerns. In the last four years, it has had three botched executions, including one in 2006, which took nearly an hour and a half and left the prisoner’s body with 19 puncture wounds.
We have long believed that capital punishment is wrong in all cases, but even those who support it should not accept cruel procedures.
Ohio should halt any further executions until it conducts a comprehensive study of what is going wrong in its administration of lethal injection and what can be done to ensure that a travesty like Mr. Broom’s attempted execution does not happen again.
Ultimately, every state should pause and consider that ending the life of a healthy man or woman is no simple matter and that even in the 21st century, executioners do not have their job down to anything like a science. No government should put people to death until it can show that the condemned person will not be racked with pain, catch on fire or prove so difficult to kill, as in Mr. Broom’s case, that the executioners are forced to try again another day.