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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

Death row inmate Romell Broom can face execution again after failed attempt, Ohio Supreme Court rules

Romell Broom, shortly after the botched execution attempt on Sept. 15, 2009
Romell Broom, shortly after the execution
attempt he survived on Sept. 15, 2009
Ohio can try a second time to execute convicted killer Romell Broom, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.

In a 4-3 ruling written by Justice Judith Lanzinger, the court said that the state would not violate the U.S. Constitution Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment by executing Broom, a Cleveland man who was convicted and sentenced to death for murdering 14-year-old Tyrna Middleton in 1984.

The court sided with the Cuyahoga County prosecutor who argued that the botched attempt to execute Broom on Sept. 15, 2009, didn't count as a failed execution because deadly chemicals never entered Broom's body.

"To be clear, the state must comply with the protocol as amended," Lanzinger wrote. "Strict compliance with the protocol will ensure that executions are carried out in a constitutional manner and can also prevent or reveal an inmate’s attempt to interfere with the execution process. We simply are unable to conclude that Broom has established that the state in carrying out a second attempt is likely to violate its protocol and cause severe pain."

Lanzinger pointed out the state has put to death 21 people since Broom's failed attempt.

In a strongly worded dissenting opinion, Justice Judith French said, "The majority’s decision to deny Romell Broom an evidentiary hearing on his Eighth Amendment claim is wrong on the law, wrong on the facts, and inconsistent in its reasoning.

"If the state cannot explain why the Broom execution went wrong, then the state cannot guarantee that the outcome will be different next time."

Justice William O'Neill added in his dissent, "Any fair reading of the record of the first execution attempt shows that Broom was actually tortured the first time. Now we embark on the task of doing it again."

Ohio Public Defender Tim Young, whose office filed a supporting brief in the case, said in response to the ruling, "The vast majority of people in America believe you get one bite at this, one try at executing someone. If you went though the process and it fails, that should be the end."

"The government doesn't get to try to execute someone twice," Young said.

Ohioans to Stop Executions issued a statement about the ruling. "Enough is enough. Our government must not be in the business of intentionally inflicting torture on our citizens. If the state’s intention is that Mr. Broom pay for his crimes by dying in jail, that can be accomplished with a commutation to life without parole. We call on Gov. (John) Kasich to do exactly that."

It is the first time in recent Ohio history the state will be allowed a do-over in an execution.

Broom's execution was called off after two hours and 18 unsuccessful attempts to attach intravenous needles.

Court records show, and both sides agreed, that Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction employees failed to follow several of the agency's execution protocols, including doing the last of three required medical checks on Broom's veins, incomplete execution-team training, lack of a backup execution procedure, and involvement by a contract physician who was not part of the execution team.

Broom's case is unique in Ohio's capital-punishment history and is one of only two known cases nationally in which an execution was halted after it began. The other one was Willie Francis, a 17-year-old killer who died in Louisiana's electric chair on May 9, 1947, having survived a botched execution a year earlier.

Source: The Columbus Dispatch, Alan Johnson, March 16, 2016

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