The Executioner's Tale: Romell Broom's Botched Lethal Injection

It must have been a grim scene on Tuesday night inside of Ohio’s state prison at Lucasville. Romell Broom lay strapped to a gurney with a team of medical technicians and correction officials hovering about him. But rather than receiving emergency medical treatment, Romell was waiting to die.

Back in 1984, Broom had been convicted of abducting a fourteen-year-old child as she walked home from a football game in Cleveland, raping her and killing her. No credible opposition to the evidence presented against him was forthcoming, and the court determined that Romell should no longer be sharing above ground real estate with the rest of us. Following the usual, nearly endless appeal cycle, Broom found himself ready to meet his maker.

But something went far off the beam on this occasion. After two hours of probing, poking, and prodding, the technicians were unable to find a suitable vein where they could administer the lethal injection. Whether this was the result of chronic intravenous drug abuse or some congenital circulatory problem makes little difference. The end result was that the execution attempt failed and Broom walked out of the chamber under his own power, still breathing the same oxygen as the rest of us.

Botched executions are nothing new in the annals of history, ranging from the curious and tragic to the downright arcane. In 1541 King Henry VIII of England ordered the beheading of Margaret Pole. One would think that the 68-year-old countess of Salisbury wouldn’t present much of a challenge, but the inexperienced ax man assigned to the job missed her neck entirely and wound up chasing her about the platform in a grotesque foreshadowing of a Benny Hill skit, slashing her a dozen times before she finally expired.

Closer to home, “Plum” Loomis, of New York’s colorful and storied Loomis Gang, was hung three times in the late 1800s over the course of his career according to newspaper reports and local legend. No failure of the court system should be blamed in his case, however, as his brothers kept showing up and cut him down before the sentence could be fully carried out. (Proper records are tough to come by, as the Loomis brothers burned down the courthouse in Watertown prior to the trial of another sibling, but Plum died in his sleep at home well into his sixties.)