Ailing Inmate’s Execution Postponed, Authorities Couldn’t Find Vein for Lethal Injection

By Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.
November 15, 2017 Updated: October 5, 2018

Alva Campbell Jr. will live for a bit longer. His execution in Ohio was postponed because the execution team couldn’t find a vein for the lethal injection.

After 30 minutes of trying, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction decided “it was not likely that we’re going to access veins,” said Gary Mohr, head of the department. Ohio Gov. John Kasich will pick another date for the execution, NBC News reported.

Over 20 years have passed since Campbell committed the murder he confessed to. Now 69, he uses a walker, relies on a colostomy bag, requires four breathing treatments a day, and may have lung cancer, his attorneys said.

He also has a severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder caused by decades of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.

The lawyers asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the execution, which was scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 15, because of Campbell’s health. The appeal failed on Nov. 14.

Gov. John Kasich also denied Campbell clemency.

Campbell was, however, checked by a doctor contracted by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, who concluded “it would be reasonable to make an accommodation for the patient during the execution process that would permit him to lay in a semi-recumbent position,” The Associated Press reported.

Such an accommodation includes a special wedge-shaped pillow to help him sit up as he’s put to death.

Back in 2002, the Ohio Supreme Court had already denied Campbell’s multiple pleas to have the sentence reduced to life. One of its reasons was that the sentence “should reflect a reasoned moral response to the defendant’s background, character, and crime rather than mere sympathy or emotion.”

In Campbell’s case, the court ruled he, despite his circumstances, still deserved the lethal injection.

Campbell was born on April 30, 1948, to an abusive and amoral family. Both parents drank and the father beat Campbell’s mother as well as his five siblings. He also psychologically tormented the children and molested two of his four daughters. Campbell said the father molested him too when he was 8, but previously contradicted himself on that point. Campbell’s younger brother died at age 3.

When Campbell was 10, the father was removed from the home. A year later the children were taken from the mother. Campbell then spent six years in treatment facilities, detention centers, and foster homes. He tried to escape whenever he could—a behavior encouraged by his mother, the court noted.

At 19, Campbell went to prison for the first time for armed robbery and shooting and injuring an Ohio Highway patrolman. He was released after four years. But just a year later, in 1972, he walked into an East Side Cleveland bar with a gun and during the holdup, shot and killed Vietnam veteran William Dovalosky, 24, son of the bar owner, The Associated Press reported at the time.

On Oct. 19, 1972, Campbell was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder. Due to relatively good behavior in prison, he was paroled after 20 years.

But once out of prison he was unable to stay out of trouble. In 1997, he was arrested for a robbery.

Planning his escape, Campbell faked hysterical paralysis (paralysis caused by emotional stress). On April 2, 1997, Franklin County Sheriff Deputy Teresa Harrison took Campbell from the Jackson Pike Jail to Franklin County for his arraignment. He was in a wheelchair with no handcuffs. When Harrison parked at the courthouse and was helping Campbell out of the vehicle, he beat her up and stole her gun (she later sued the sheriff’s office for not telling her how dangerous Campbell was).

Campbell ran into the street, forcing Charles Dials, 18, to stop his pickup truck. Campbell opened the driver’s door and said, “I don’t want to hurt you; just move over.”

Campbell drove the truck around with Dials inside and stopped multiple times and talked to Dials, forced him to switch clothes with him, and bought a 40-ounce beer. Finally, he stopped by a K-Mart and talked to Dials for about two hours. The radio was on and a news report mentioned Campbell’s escape. Dials put two and two together. “That’s you, ain’t it?” he asked. Campbell affirmed.

After a bit more talking, Campbell drove behind the K-Mart, took some time to pick a parking spot, and told Dials to get on the floor board. He then shot him twice in the face and neck.

Campbell waited until a woman parked near the truck and tried to kidnap her. She escaped, but he managed to get her valet and car keys. He drove her car to a nearby shopping center where he tried to kidnap another man, who managed to escape. After more driving around, he was spotted by police. Trying to escape by car and then on foot, Campbell found a tree to hide in. But officers spotted him and surrounded the tree. Finally, he dropped the gun and surrendered. Later, he confessed to the murder.

On April 3, 1998, Franklin County Common Pleas Judge John Connor sentenced Campbell to death, as recommended by the jury, The Associated Press reported at the time. The execution was scheduled for April 2, 1999.

Campbell fought the court’s decision for almost 20 years, trying to get his sentence reduced to life in prison.

Ultimately, however, the courts decided that his traumatic childhood, his relatively good behavior in prison, and his poor health didn’t diminish enough of the burden of responsibility of the extremely bad decisions he had made—forfeiting his life.

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Petr Svab
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.