A Criminal Enterprise

Romell Broom Must Die

Posted in Uncategorized by Robert Smith on September 16, 2009

In May of 1946,  the state of Louisiana attempted to execute Willie Francis for the murder of  a well-known local businessman. But a strange thing happened after Willie was strapped into the electric chair. It didn’t work right. Willie didn’t die. Willie’s case, Francis v. Resweber,  ended up at the United States Supreme Court, where he lost 5-4. Louisiana promptly strapped Willie back into the electric chair. And that time it did work. This horrifying story has been told many times and in various mediums. I recommend three in particular: Willie Francis Must Die Again (documentary) , The Execution of Willie Francis (book), and, most recently, When Willie Francis Died (link to SSRN Page. This article also discusses the references to Willie’s case made in Baze v. Rees, the recent lethal injection decision).

The electric chair is long gone in Ohio. But that didn’t stop today’s botched execution. Execution team volunteers tried for  two hours to find a vein to carry Ohio’s lethal cocktail into Broom’s body. When they could not, Governor Strickland granted Broom a temporary reprieve (read: one week delay).

And if this case alone is not enough, the problem appears to be important and recurring. CNN Reports:

In May 2006, Ohio officials took nearly 90 minutes to carry out the execution of Joseph Clark because of problems finding a vein. Once they did find one, it collapsed, according to the Toledo Blade. Clark repeatedly shook his head, according to the newspaper, and told officials, “It don’t work.”

A year later, Ohio inmate Christopher Newton’s execution reportedly took two hours after a prison team had trouble finding a vein.

Granted, Willie Francis felt more physical pain than Romell Broom. But it’s been more than six decades since Willie Francis had his day at the Supreme Court. And what common decency and common sense should have told us then is pellucidly clear now: The execution process is emotionally and psychologically devastating—for the defendant, his family and friends, the victim’s family and friends, the guards, the legal teams and even the politicians who must make last minute judgment calls.

Regardless of the degree of mercy that any defendant shows a victim, our system demands that we not carry out cruel and unusual punishment and that we provide due process of law. Whether the Constitution permits Ohio another shot at executing Romell Broom is a question that deserves a hard look. And if the courts won’t look, then I hope Governor Strickland will.

Other coverage: StandDown Texas has this post (which includes Professor Deborah Denno’s take). Sentencing Law and Policy has this post. Capital Defense Weekly here.  Crim Prof blog here.  Crime and Consequences blog has this post, which includes:

I have said from the beginning that the switch to lethal injection was a bad idea. All we needed to do to fix the gas chamber problem was use a different gas.

One Response

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  1. Fred Flintstone said, on September 18, 2013 at 6:59 am

    What Broom did to get a death sentence is so vile, and the crimes he committed that he wasn’t tried for, because he already had a death sentence, were so vile too, well, I just can’t help thinking that anyone expressing empathy for this man is simply being perverse. And until these blowhards freaking out about this man getting the death penalty, go through the experience a loved one dying in the same revolting fashion, any utterances from them is simply presumptuous.

    Strange to have empathy for a sexual predator and murderer of children, while having none for those children’s loved ones who have had their lives completely ruined by this guy.

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