Convicted killer Alva Campbell, Jr. received a rare reprieve from his scheduled execution Wednesday when medical personnel were unable to locate a vein to absorb the three-drug cocktail used as part of the lethal injection process.
His new execution date was later rescheduled for June 15, 2019.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich issued the reprieve for Campbell after the execution was halted by Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Gary Mohr, who said he acted on the recommendation of his medical staff.
The staff spent at least 25 minutes in an unsuccessful effort to find a suitable vein in Campbell’s arms and right leg.
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While this was happening, Campbell lay in a partially sitting position on a prison gurney in the execution chamber at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.
Campbell shed tears and shook hands with two of the medical staffers attending to him after they were unable to proceed with the execution process.
“He’s pretty happy,” David Stebbins, Campbell’s federal public defender, said of his client after the execution was stopped. “He said, ‘This is a day I will never forget.’”
Mohr said the medical staff were unable to identify the two viable injection sites necessary for the lethal injection to proceed.
Campbell was sentenced to death for fatally shooting Charles Dials, 18, in 1997 after stealing his truck during an escape from custody.
Dials’ brother, sister and uncle were witnesses in the execution facility, sitting silently as they watched a closed-circuit monitor showing Campbell behind a screen as medical personnel attempted to find veins with an ultraviolet light and by palpating his arms and ankle.
Three of Campbell’s attorneys and a friend witnessed for him, along with five reporters, including one from the Dayton Daily News.
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The family did not issue a statement, but Mohr said he spoke to them afterward and said it was a difficult discussion.
“I told them that we did our best to comply with the law, to comply with the death warrant, but the methodology that we have to use is lethal injection, and our staff, as good as they are, and as experienced as they are could not get the drugs into the veins,” Mohr said. “I can’t imagine what it’s like for them. I cannot imagine traveling to Lucasville and not having result. I can’t imagine.”
This is the second time in recent years the inability to find a vein has stopped an execution. During the attempted execution of inmate Romell Broom in 2009, authorities spent about two hours trying to find a suitable vein before stopping. He remains on death row.
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After his execution was called off, Campbell was transported back to the Chillicothe Correctional Institute.
About 20 protesters demonstrated outside the prison, including Abe Bonowitz of Ohioans To Stop Executions, who said the death penalty should be abolished.
ACLU of Ohio Senior Policy Director Mike Brickner also denounced the state’s effort to execute Campbell.
“This type of state-sponsored torture is not acceptable and the state of Ohio must place a moratorium on executions immediately,” Brickner said in a news release issued after the execution was halted. “Today the state made a spectacle of a man’s life, and the cruel and unusual practice of lethal injection must end.”
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Campbell has multiple health problems, including issues with his veins. He has asthma, emphysema and requires an external colostomy bag, according to court filings and parole board testimony. The state agreed to use a wedge pillow to help him partially sit up on the execution gurney because of his breathing problems.
Stebbins, cited his client’s health problems, along with a violence-filled childhood, in efforts to stop the execution. He said Wednesday the state should not bother to reschedule it.
“He has very serious health problems,” Stebbins said.
Stebbins commended the professionalism of the prison medical personnel who attended to Campbell. He said Campbell has four puncture wounds from efforts to find a vein. The staff did not try his left leg because they had never been able to find an accessible vein there in earlier tests. Tests on Tuesday did find accessible veins but that had changed by Wednesday morning, Mohr said.
Campbell has a lengthy criminal record. He was on parole after serving a prison sentence for killing a man in Cleveland in 1997 when he shot Dials to death after overpowering a sheriff’s deputy in Franklin County. Campbell took the deputy’s gun forced his way into Dials’ truck, driving off with Dials inside. He shot the teen twice in the head after ordering him to get onto the floor board.
Campbell received the death penalty after his 1998 conviction on charges of aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, kidnapping, felonious assault, escape and other offenses in Franklin County Common Pleas Court.
Campbell exhausted all of his appeals and clemency bids, including one before the U.S. Supreme Court, which on Tuesday denied his motion to stay the execution of his death sentence.
In October, U.S. District Magistrate Judge Michael R. Merz in Dayton rejected Campbell’s request to be executed by firing squad.
Stebbins said the request was made as an alternative to lethal injection and that the firing squad idea was his attorneys, not Campbell’s.
Stebbins said he had a report from the prison warden that medical personnel were able to palpate veins to find one suitable for injection.
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Since the introduction of the electric chair, three death row inmates in the U.S. survived the first attempts to execute them after the process began.
May 3, 1946: The execution of Willie Francis, 17, was called off after an improperly prepared electric chair failed to work in Louisiana. Francis was sentenced to die for the murder of St. Martinville, Louisiana, druggist Andrew Thomas, who once employed Francis. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to allow a second execution to proceed, rejecting double jeopardy arguments. Louisiana successfully executed the 18-year-old Francis by electric chair on May 9, 1947.
Sept. 15, 2009: The execution of Romell Broom, then age 53, by lethal injection was called off after two hours when Ohio prison technicians were unable to find a suitable vein, as Broom cried in pain while receiving 18 needle sticks. Broom was sentenced to die for raping and killing 14-year-old Tryna Middleton after abducting her in Cleveland in 1984 as she walked home from a football game with two friends. Broom, now 61, remains on death row. He has been arguing in court that the state shouldn't be allowed a second attempt to execute him.
Nov. 15, 2017: The execution of Alva Campbell, 69, by lethal injection was called off after members of Ohio's execution team told the state prisons director they couldn't find a vein to insert an IV.