Christopher Hill,
Capital Punishment Project
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September 17, 2009

On Monday, Ohio’s execution team was unable to find a suitable vein in Romell Broom’s arm so it could not inject poison into his body and put an end to his life. The failed attempts took so long that Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland finally gave Broom a reprieve until next week. Ohio has not done well with lethal injections.

Although the United States Supreme Court ruled in Baze v. Rees that Kentucky’s three-drug cocktail did not create a substantial risk of causing unnecessary pain, the fact of the matter is that the lethal injection process is fraught with problems.

One big problem is finding a suitable vein. The Broom case demonstrates this, as do a number of others. After Angel Diaz was executed in Florida in December of 2006, an autopsy showed that the chemicals burned through his soft tissue indicating that the needles went through his vein rather than in his vein. Then-Gov. Jeb Bush instituted a moratorium to find out why the Diaz execution went so wrong.

Six years earlier, Florida had problems executing Bennie Demps by lethal injection because the execution team had difficulties finding a suitable vein. Demps claimed that he was “butchered” and he was bleeding “profusely” before the lethal drugs were administered. According to the warden, a “surgical procedure” had to be performed to find a suitable vein.

Botched executions in the quest to find a suitable vein transcends location, gender and infamy. Ricky Ray Rector made national news in 1992 when Arkansas governor and then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton left the campaign trail to ensure Rector’s execution took place. The execution took 55 minutes because a suitable vein could not be found. In 2000, Arkansas had a problem finding a vein to insert into the arm of Christina Riggs. The team finally put the lethal needles in her wrists.

In Georgia, the execution team could not find veins for Jose High in 2001, John Hightower in 2007, or Curtis Osborne in 2008. Texas’s problems include at least two inmates assisting the team with finding usable veins. In 1998, Texas executed Joseph Cannon. His vein collapsed and the needle came out during his execution causing Cannon to shout “it’s come undone.”

Execution teams come up with many excuses about the trouble they have. They say that suitable veins are hard to find in a person with a history of intravenous drug use. They also say that it is difficult to place needles in the arms of overweight inmates. Whatever the excuses, the inability to find a suitable vein creates an excruciating experience for the condemned, and sometimes the witnesses.

The fact of the matter is that there are no suitable veins. There is no humane way to end a person’s life. When ruling Nebraska’s electric chair was cruel and unusual punishment, Judge Connolly said “[w]e recognize the temptation to make the prisoner suffer, just as the prisoner made an innocent victim suffer. But it is the hallmark of a civilized society that we punish cruelty without practicing it.” The only way we can punish cruelty without practicing it is to abolish capital punishment.

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