Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Ohio Death Row Prisoner Avoids Execution then Dies in Prison

by Derek Gilna

On March 3, 2018, Alva Campbell, a 69-year-old death row prisoner convicted of two murders, died in prison. Ironically, he passed away just five months after his poor health forced the postponement of his execution.

In November 2017, prison officials were unable to find a vein to insert a needle for a lethal injection. Campbell, who had exhausted all of his appeals and been denied clemency by both Ohio’s parole board and by Governor John Kasich, had a well-documented history of medical problems.

Campbell was sentenced to death after killing 18-year-old Charles Dials in 1997; he shot the teenager during a carjacking after escaping from police custody on other charges. Campbell had already served a 20-year sentence for a previous murder.

According to his attorney, David Stebbins, when Campbell’s execution was postponed after the failed attempt he said, “This is a day I’ll never forget.” Campbell, who had severe breathing problems as a result of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer, was given a wedge-shaped pillow during the lethal injection process to help him breathe.

However, following four attempts to find a vein in his arms or legs through which to administer the drugs, prison officials failed to locate one. Subsequently, eighty minutes after it was scheduled to begin, Campbell’s execution was called off.

A petition filed with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking a stay of execution noted that “Campbell suffers from lung cancer, COPD, respiratory failure, prostate cancer, hip replacement, and severe pneumonia.” It added he must have oxygen treatments four times a day and relied on a walker due to his “limited mobility.”

In the same petition, Campbell’s attorneys argued that as a result of his severe medical conditions his execution would violate the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Campbell also claimed to be allergic to midazolam, a sedative used during lethal injections.

Governor Kasich set a new execution date for Campbell in June 2019, but Stebbins was skeptical the state would have any better luck at that time. “He’s 69 years old and has all kinds of illnesses and his veins are a mess,” he said of his client. “They’re just not going to get any better.”

It turned out he was correct, as Campbell died of natural causes rather than at the hands of prison officials.

“Due to 20 years of frivolous post-conviction litigation, he successfully ran the clock out on justice due to the state and the victim’s family,” complained Franklin County prosecutor Ron O’Brien. 



As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login