Ohio Set to Execute Gravely Ill Prisoner, Alva Campbell

Ohio death-row prisoner Alva Campbell (pictured) is 69, suffers from severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, is unable to walk without a walker, relies on a colostomy bag that hangs outside his body, requires four breathing treatments each day, may have lung cancer, and is reportedly allergic to midazolam, the controversial first drug in the state's lethal-injection process. Prison personnel have been unable to find veins suitable for inserting an intravenous line into either of Campbell's arms. Ohio intends to execute him November 15. Campbell has challenged the constitutionality of Ohio’s lethal-injection protocol, arguing that it carries unconstitutional risks for a person with his medical conditions, and has asked to be executed by firing squad. The Ohio federal courts denied Campbell's challenge earlier in November, and he has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to stay his execution, arguing he is too ill for lethal injection. Ohio is defending its execution process, and officials for the state’s Department of Rehabilitation and Correction say that as a medical accommodation, the state will provide Campbell with “a wedge-shaped pillow” to prop him up “in a semi-recumbent position” to help him breathe as he is being executed. Corrections spokesperson JoEllen Smith said that Campbell's “medical condition and history are being assessed and considered in order to identify any necessary accommodations or contingencies for his execution.” Campbell’s lawyer, assistant federal public defender David Stebbins, warns that Campbell's death could become a “spectacle” if prison staff are unable to find a suitable vein during his execution. “All of this in an attempt to execute an old and frail man who is no longer a threat to anyone,” Stebbins said. “Killing Alva Campbell is simply not necessary.” On November 9, Gov. John Kasich rejected Campbell's plea to stop the execution and let him die of his terminal illnesses. [UPDATE: The U.S. Supreme Court has denied Campbell's motion for a stay of execution. After four unsuccessful attempts to find a vein, Ohio called off the execution.]

Campbell is not the first severely debilitated prisoner to face execution. On November 6, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review an execution challenge brought on behalf of Vernon Madison, an Alabama death-row prisoner debilitated by strokes that have left him legally blind, incontinent, unable to walk independently, and with no memory of the offense for which he was sentenced to death. In March 2015, Missouri executed Cecil Clayton, aged 74, who was missing a significant portion of his brain as a result of an industrial accident, had a post-injury IQ of 71, and suffered from dementia. On at least four occasions, states have provided life-saving medical treatment to prisoners who had attempted suicide, so they could then be executed. 

(A. Welsh-Huggins, “Ohio transfers sick inmate to death house ahead of execution,” Associated Press, November 14, 2017; A. Welsh-Huggins, “Ohio death row inmate Alva Campbell will get wedge-shaped pillow for execution,” Associated Press, November 9, 2017; A. Welsh-Huggins, “Ohio governor won’t spare the life of seriously ill inmate,” Associated Press, November 9, 2017; A. Welsh-Huggins, “Ill Ohio inmate suggests firing squad as execution alternative," Associated Press, November 4, 2017.)