On September 15th, 2009, Romell Broom was scheduled to die by lethal injection at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. The execution attempt lasted for two-and-a-half hours, during which time the medical team tried to establish intravenous access, sticking needles into Mr. Broom a total of 18 times. The efforts to inject Mr. Broom remained unsuccessful and Ohio Governor, Ted Strickland, finally granted a reprieve of one week. Since then Mr. Broom’s lawyers have been litigating in the Ohio courts to prevent the state from attempting to execute Romell Broom a second time.
The last failed execution in the United States was in 1946, when Willie Francis survived efforts to put him to death in the electric chair. In the case of Willie Francis, the U.S. Supreme Court decided one year later that Louisiana could try again. Willie Francis died in the electric chair in 1947.
Over 60 years later, in December 2009, when asked about the judicial controversy over whether or not Romell Broom can be subjected to a second execution attempt, the Ohio Public Defender labels this controversy obscene. He expresses his hope that the country and its people have changed over the past 60 years and that they would at least not try to kill somebody twice.
Romell Broom was sentenced to death in 1985 for the kidnap, rape and murder of 14-year old Tryna Middleton from Cleveland, Ohio.
The film reexamines and reconstructs the 1984 murder case and subsequent trial of Romell Broom in 1985. Five former police detectives of the Cleveland Police Department and East Cleveland Police Department and the coroner show us the crime scenes and share their recollection of their investigation in ‘84.
The detectives recall the arrest of Romell Broom for the attempted abduction of 11-year old Melinda G. This arrest took place three months after the murder of Tryna Middleton. Romell Broom was put in a line-up with four other men where two eyewitnesses to the Tryna Middleton murder identified Romell Broom as the man who, on the night of September 21st, abducted their friend and tried to abduct them as well. The detectives also talk about their suspecting Romell Broom to be responsible for the rape and homicide of Gloria Pointer, another 14-year old girl from Cleveland. Gloria was found dead the morning of the same day that Romell Broom had tried to abduct Melinda G.
When interviewed, Gloria’s mother, Yvonne Pointer, states that the police tried to persuade her that Romell Broom had killed Gloria. Yvonne asked them for proof and found they didn’t have any. To the contrary, the evidence contradicted the possibility of Romell Broom having raped and killed Gloria. The homicide of Gloria Pointer has remained unsolved until today.
The former assistant prosecutor and Romell Broom’s former defense attorney talk about the trial and conviction in 1985. The former defense attorney, from his perspective today, calls the trial extremely one-sided and manipulated. He states that important exculpatory documents, consisting of police reports from East Cleveland, were withheld by the prosecution. The content of these documents would most likely have prevented the death sentence for Romell Broom.
When discussing the content of these East Cleveland police reports with the former assistant prosecutor, he first claims to have no knowledge of the existence of material with such exculpatory content. Later, when shown a specific document, he admits that this would have been evidence that the defense could have used during the trial. He follows this admission with conjecture that this evidence would not have been beneficial to the defendant Romell Broom and would not have saved him from the death sentence.
A 2002 ruling by the Ohio Federal Court on Romell Broom’s “Brady Claim”, a claim, which would grant him a new trial, confirms the prosecutor’s claim that he had no knowledge of the East Cleveland police reports. The Federal Judge however finds that the material in question would have been favorable to Mr. Broom and impacted the course of the trial positively for him.
The controversy in the film between the former defense counsel and assistant prosecutor as to the trial in ‘85, raises serious questions about the State’s case and its indictments against Romell Broom as presented to the jury. More importantly, it throws into question the fairness of his death sentence.
Looking at the specific case of Romell Broom and discussing with legal experts the ramifications and repercussions of the death penalty in general, the film reveals the flaws and frailty of the system, in which the chances of being sentenced to death increase the fewer financial resources the defendant has and the darker the complexion of his skin. On the other hand, the careers of prosecutors and judges are bolstered by the number of death sentences they achieve.
The question whether or not the State should be granted the right to retry an execution if they are unable to get it right the first time seems immoral in general. In the case of Romell Broom, against the background of his flawed trial and unfair conviction, this question seems morally and legally absurd.
The family of Romell Broom and his blind fiancée provide insight into the destructive impact of the death penalty on the people close to the perpetrator. In stark contrast, the prospect of a second execution brings joy to the former victim of Romell Broom, whom he brutally tried to abduct when she was 11. Having never overcome the trauma of this experience, she anxiously awaits his death, hoping that it will finally put her mind at rest.
Would the prospect of satisfaction and final closure for the victim’s family, often brought up by the state as major benefit of the death penalty, make the death penalty acceptable in any case at all?
Yvonne Pointer, through dealing with the pain after the murder of her child, has found an answer that works for her. The execution of the perpetrator by the state is in her eyes merely satisfying the archaic desire for revenge and retribution. It doesn’t help the victims’ families, as it neither brings back their loved ones nor gives the expected closure and relief. Yvonne found a way through her pain by helping others to cope with their pain and by going into prisons and speaking with perpetrators. She tries to teach compassion to convicted rapists and murderers in order to make them aware of the ripple effect of their crimes. That a life they take, also takes away the lives of many other people connected to the victim and eventually their own life. That the hatred that underlies and is evoked by their crimes brings forth more hatred and omnipresent pain.
In her work with perpetrators and at-risk teenagers in impoverished areas Yvonne Pointer tries to help them break the cycle of hatred and violence. By teaching forgiveness, compassion and love to both perpetrators and victims’ families, Yvonne shows how these positive perspectives can grow and expand creating a force beneficial to all people.
Romell Broom’s account of how he experienced the months leading up to the scheduled execution and the execution itself, lasting for two-and-a-half hours, leaves no doubt that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment beyond comprehension.
How will Ohio’s judges and probably eventually the U.S. Supreme Court answer the moral and legal question of a second execution of Romell Broom?