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Ohio's latest stay of execution signals problems with state's death penalty protocol

Virginia Sloan [President, The Constitution Project]: "The recent uproar surrounding Ohio's failed attempt to execute Romell Broom, who was convicted of murdering Tryna Middleton, highlights the continuing problems with lethal injection in Ohio, and elsewhere around the country. If the state is to continue using the death penalty, the state must comply with the "quick and painless" standard mandated by Ohio state law, as well as the mandates of the US Constitution. Executions must not resume unless the state is able to guarantee that execution teams are properly trained to carry out their purpose and that a contingency plan is in place to address unexpected problems, including when — as was the case with Romell Broom - peripheral vein access becomes difficult or impossible.

The September 20th fiasco is the most recent of several botched executions in Ohio, which uses the controversial "three-drug cocktail" lethal injection. The executions of Joseph Clark in 2006, and that of Christopher Newton the following year, were ultimately successful but were delayed significantly because of difficulties in locating veins suitable for injection, an increasingly evident and inherent flaw in lethal injection protocols around the country. Following the Clark and Newton executions, Ohio officials vehemently defended the state's execution procedures and dismissed any need for improvements. The failed attempt to execute Mr. Broom on September 20th clearly demonstrates otherwise.

The recent stays of execution granted to Mr. Broom and Ohio death row inmates Kenneth Biros, Darryl Durr, and Lawrence Reynolds, are a step in the right direction. It is now clear that a thorough review must take place before the state decides whether to resume executions. Lethal injections are the most widespread method of execution in the US and, at a minimum, new safeguards are absolutely necessary to ensure that any executions are constitutionally sound.

The problems with capital punishment, including those in Ohio, are of concern not just to opponents of capital punishment. In 2005, the Constitution Project's bipartisan, blue-ribbon committee of death penalty supporters and opponents released Mandatory Justice: the Death Penalty Revisited [PDF file], an update to the 2001 ground-breaking report Mandatory Justice: Eighteen Reforms to the Death Penalty [PDF file]. Both addressed the profound risk of wrongful convictions and executions created by the country's capital punishment system, and crafted consensus recommendations for a variety of urgently-needed reforms. To learn more, please visit the Constitution Project's Death Penalty Committee."

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.

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