Capital Punishment Botches
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Capital Punishment Botches

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Shows the history of electrocution in the U.S., particularly the botched executions.

Shows the history of electrocution in the U.S., particularly the botched executions.

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  • 1. Capital Punishment botches
  • 2. Capital Punishment Botches
  • 3. “ Old Sparky” Cruel and Unusual? Sing Sing Chair – 613 Executions Other nicknames in the 25 states that used it were: Sizzling Sally , Old Smokey , Grusome Gertie, & Y ellow M amma (AL)
  • 4. “ Old Sparky” – electric chair
    • More then 4,460 men & 26 women have gone to the “hot seat”
    • since its introduction in 1890 , and the history of electrocution is
    • dotted with ghoulish and bizarre incidents . The prisoner enters
    • a death chamber and is strapped into an electric chair. Metal
    • plates, called electrodes , are attached to the crown of the
    • prisoner’s head and to the calf of one leg. An electric current
    • passes from one electrode to another thru the prisoner’s body.
    • The current should produce immediate loss of consciousness
    • and almost immediate death. Medical experts
    • believe the person feels no pain (painless). In
    • 1890 , New York became the first state to
    • electrocute a criminal. Texas is one of 37 states
    • allowing capital punishment [ drug injections ].
    NY had 695 executions including 9 women. Texas had 361 electrocutions.
  • 5.
    • Some would say electrocution is cruel and unusual . Evidence
    • seems to show that we have yet to find a humane method of
    • execution. The authors of the Constitution were fearful of certain
    • Barbaric punishments such as tarring and feathering and
    • whipping that had occurred during the colonial era. After years of
    • hanging convicted criminals by rope, in 1890, New York introduced
    • the electric chair to the U.S., hoping that it would “be more
    • humane than hanging.” After viewing a number of hangings, including
    • that of a woman who slowly strangled to death , NY decided
    • the noose had to go . To get support for electrocution, Harold
    • Brown went around the country demonstrating the system’s
    • death dealing potential. He electrocuted stray dogs and cats
    • & even horses . He even electrocuted an orangutan , although
    • the orangutan caught fire . No problem , a human being
    • wasn’t covered with hair . The electric chair was born .
    “ Old Sparky” in Texas fried 361 between 1924-64
  • 6. William Kemmler – 1890 - first electric chair victim who killed his mistress with a hatchet.
    • Kemmler’s execution was not a happy one . A first jolt of 17 seconds
    • failed to kill him and shocked doctors watched Kemmler’s breast
    • heave and his heart resume beating . Panic ensued in the execution
    • chamber and finally the current was turned on again for another 70
    • seconds at 1,300 volts . Some of the witnesses fainted and another
    • retched and bolted from the room. Finally, Kemmler was good and dead .
    • However, the flesh on his back was badly burned and his muscles
    • carbonized . When his body was autopsied, a witness described his flesh
    • as well cooked beef . As time passed, executioners learned to watch the
    • condemned person’s hands . When they turn pink , other parts of the body,
    • nearer to the source of the electrical charge, are far darker and closer to
    • being burned . “Over-burning” still occurred. It has been argued that
    • electrocution causes no pain and almost instant unconsciousness,
    • if not actual death. Evidence indicates that while electric current destroys
    • human tissue in its path, it fails to destroy vital organs , thus causing tremendous
    • pain . Also, different people react in different manners to electric currents.
  • 7. The “Usual Electric Chair”
    • The usual chair had two legs in back and a heavier single leg in front ,
    • all bolted to the floor. T he extra-wide arms are fitted with straps to hold
    • the arms of the victim rigid. Other straps go around his chest and
    • abdomen. The wiring around the chair is covered with rubber matting.
    • Ideally, an electrocution is a 3-minute drill , with the prisoner strapped
    • into the chair quickly. Inexperienced guards practice with the straps in advance to
    • avoid fumbling delays. A tight mask is placed over the prisoners’ face to hide the
    • facial contortions when the “juice” is turned on. The mask is especially tight
    • around the eyes to keep them from popping out of their sockets.
    • There are no long goodbyes or last statements . And the lights never dim in the
    • rest of the prison, because the chair is always powered by a separate source.
    • Hollywood prefers the light-dimming routine because it gives a scriptwriter an
    • opportunity to stage a prisoner protest or achieve special dramatic effect.
    • The executioner throws a switch and the raging current pitches the victim
    • against the binding with terrible force . His hair stands up and his flesh turns the
    • color of beets . If the executioner fails to flip the switch when the prisoner’s lungs
    • are empty, there is a gurgling noise as air is forced from the lungs by the shock of
    • the current. The first jolt should be 2,000 volts or slightly more, after which it is
    • cut back to 1,000 volts to prevent what witnesses might take as unseemly
  • 8.
    • burning of the body . At his stage the victim may pass waste. The tradition
    • of a last hearty meal for the condemned is truly a tribulation for the
    • executioner. Mouth foam will seep out from under the hood. Often, the
    • electrical jolt may be repeated to make sure the victim is dead. It is a
    • worthwhile precaution. When Arthur Grimes was executed in Alabama in
    • 1954, the doctor found his heart still beating . He stepped back and waited
    • for it to stop, but instead of expiring, Grimes started to shudder violently
    • and thrash against the straps . He started to come back to consciousness ,
    • gasping and sucking in air . It took 7 full minutes of juice, six massive jolts
    • in all , to end his life .
    • In 1946, Louisiana tried to execute Willie Francis , 17, by electrocution.
    • He killed his employer. Francis survived the ordeal and returned to his
    • cell. He lawyer appealed to the supreme court that his life should be
    • spared because he had already been executed . But – he was executed
    • again the next year.
    • In 1983, Alabama tried to execute John Evans , and it required 3 separate
    • charges of 1,900 volts each over a 14-minute period before being declared
    • dead. There was an overbearing stench of burnt flesh but he did not die until after
    • the 3 rd charge.
  • 9. Botched Jobs - Hangings
    • In 1930 in West Virginia, Frank Myer , a wife murderer , was
    • hanged. He was a bad hanging victim , being heavyset with
    • short neck and what were described as “soft bones.” When
    • the trapdoor opened, Myer’s body crashed to the concrete
    • floor , followed by a second thud as his head landed nearby .
    • Several of the witnesses got sick as the head rolled a few feet
    • In their direction, and after the execution some of them
    • allowed they would never again attend a hanging . The sheer
    • messiness of hanging finally led to the abandonment of the
    • method by most states, which opted for either the electric
    • chair or the gas chamber.
  • 10. Botched Jobs - Shootings
    • This might be the most humane method of all. The man is strapped down in a chair against an oval-shaped canvas-covered wall. A doctor locates the heart precisely and pins a cloth target directly over it . Unless the victim objects, he is hooded . 20 feet away in a canvas enclosure, five sharpshooters are given .20 caliber rifles , each loaded with a single cartridge . One , however, receives a blank so that each marksmen can later rationalize he did not do the killing . They place their weapons through slits in the canvas, and when the order is given, they fire in unison . Four bullets thump into the heart , making death virtually instantaneous and probably painless .
    • Sounds simple so why don’t more states use this method. It is very bloody , and society generally does not like a mess around to remind it that a human being has just been slaughtered. Another reason, the marksmen may turn “chicken” and cheat . If a marksman wants to make sure he does not fire the fatal bullet, he will aim “off-heart” and thus be able to figure that the victim died long before his shot could have taken any effect. In 1951, the height of official embarrassment was achieved when all four marksmen hit the victim, Elisio Mares , on the right side of the chest. He bled to death slowly . Because of such inefficiencies, death by firing squad never will gain much popularity.
  • 11. Botched Jobs
    • To the public, there was something fascinating about botched-up jobs. Survival after death in the electric chair has always been an intriguing idea.
    • A number of condemned persons have swallowed all types of metal objects under the belief that somehow this would cause the electric chair to “short.” In the 1950s a prisoner named Donald Snyder entered his Sing Sing death cell weighing 150 pounds and soon started eating and eating and eating . He had come up with the novel idea of getting too fat to fit into the chair . Weight-wise he did remarkably, eventually tipping the scales at over 300 pounds . His request for the traditional last meal was, “pork chops, eggs and plenty of ‘em.” He spent his last few hours speculating with a guard how the newspapers would go wild when it turned out he couldn’t be executed . Unfortunately, “The hot seat fitted him as though it had been made to order.”
    • Harry Roberts in NY told the prison doctor as he was strapped into the chair, “Doc, my last act is going to be for science. We’ll see how fast this juice really works. The moment I feel it, I’ll wiggle this finger.” It never wiggled.
    • One doctor at Sing Sing, who witnessed over 200 executions, said, “The effect of electricity is instantaneous brain death. What observers see are muscle contractions, not agony.”
  • 12. Botched Jobs – Gas Chamber
    • During the 20s & 30s, it was hyped as truly superior to electrocution and hanging. The most famous gas chamber was the one at San Quentin . Built in 1938, it has been the site of some of the nation’s most dramatic executions , including Barbara Graham and Caryl Chessman . The gas chamber is designed with two chairs so that two executions can take place at the same time . When kidnapper and murderess Bonnie Heady died in the Missouri gas chamber along with her partner, Carl hall , she asked guards not to strap in her man too tightly. “You got plenty of room, honey,” Heady asked. He replied, “Yes mama.” Thus satisfied, the woman smiled and sat back to breathe the deadly fumes.
    • Under the chairs are shallow pans into which tubes from a small vestibule are fed a mixture of water and sulfuric acid . A lever is pulled and bags with 16 one-ounce cyanide pellets are dropped into the mixture. Fumes rise swiftly and the victim dies quickly once in a while . Some reporters who have covered various types of executions regard the gas chamber as the most vile and inhumane of all .
    • Essentially, the victim strangles to death without the courtesy of a rope . He is forced to do it to himself as he battles for oxygen that is no longer there, except in a “frozen” state that is useless to the body. The condemned person is often told that as soon as he smells an odor
  • 13. Botched Jobs – Gas Chamber [continued]
    • resembling “rotten eggs”, he should count to 10 and then take several deep breaths . This, he is told, will cause him to pass out quickly and die without pain . However, it doesn’t happen that way . Man’s instinct is to live. The victim will gasp and wheeze , struggling for air. His mouth opens and shuts like a beached fish . Often, he screams or cries . Choking, he thrashes about. He pulls on his bonds . Occasionally, it is said, a victim will break an arm free , usually in the process severing the skin , so that his blood may spurt over the windows thru which the witnesses are watching.
    • The asphyxiation process is slow . The thrashing victim’s face turns purple and his eyes bulge . He starts to drool . A swollen tongue hangs out . But death still hasn’t occurred. The death process takes 8-9 minutes . The record , although statistics are not definitive, appears to be 11 minutes .
  • 14. Barbara Graham’s Death [“I Want To Live”]
    • Barbara helped rob an elderly woman and suffocated her with
    • a pillow . In the movie, “I Want To Live”, the main jolt comes
    • in the final minutes, when viewers share with her the panic & resignation that precede execution. The movie execution
    • makes for difficult viewing (even in her tailored suit) as Susan
    • is strapped into the chair in San Quentin prison ’s gas chamber.
    • Executioner: “When you hear the pellets drop, count to 10. Take a deep breath. It will be easier that way.”
    • Barbara Graham: “How do you know?”
    • The cyanide pellets plop into the vat of acid: fumes rise; Graham’s head snaps back; falls forward; jerks back again; droops to the right; and then falls gently forward one last time .
    • Powerful stuff – but not nearly so wrenching a sight as an actual execution by lethal gas. San Quentin’s warden once described a typical gas-chamber death as follows:
    • “ At first there is evidence of extreme horror, pain and strangling. The eyes pop. The skin turns purple, and the victim begins to drool. It is a horrible sight. Witnesses faint. It is finally as though he has gone to sleep. The body, however, is not disfigured or mutilated in any way.”
  • 15. Caryl Chessman [ the “Red-Light Bandit” ]
    • Chessman was a paroled robber/rapist . His case engendered more anti-capital punishment sentiment than any other case, before or since. He was known as the “Red-Light Bandit.” He used a flashing red light on his car roof, resembling that used by the police to victimize couples on lonely roads in the L.A. area. He would make the female come to his car and rape them. He wrote a book, “Cell 2455: Death Row” , which became a best seller . After his death, it was revealed that a federal judge had granted him a last minute reprieve , but the judge’s clerk had lost precious minutes dialing a wrong number before getting thru to the death chamber, & the cyanide pellets had been dropped only moments before word of the stay got through to San Quentin’s warden.
    • Chessman’s ordeal of dying in 1960 went this way. He tried to make his dying easy , inhaling as quickly and deeply as he could. By prearrangement with a newsman witness, Chessman was to signal if the pain became agony . Shortly after his ordeal began, Chessman looked towards the reporter and nodded his head vigorously , the signal that the dying process was indeed agonizing . F inally , his head slumped to his chest and his tongue popped out . A woman reporter
  • 16. Caryl Chessman [ the “R ed- Light Bandit” ] [continued]
    • described his death this way. “I thought Chessman must be dead but no , there was another agonizing period during which he choked on the gas . And again . And then again . There was a long period, another deep gasp . At the fourth such straining , Chessman’s head lolled in a half circle , coming forward so that he faced downward with his chin almost touching his chest. This must be the end. But the dying went on .
    • A deep gasp , his head came up for an instant, dropped forward again. After two or three deep breaths , which seemed something like sobs, a trembling set up throughout his body . Along the line of his broad shoulders, down the arms to his fingers, I could see the tremor run. Then I saw his pale face grow suddenly paler, though I had not thought that it could be after his 12 years in prison . A little saliva came from his lips , spotted the white shirt that a condemned man wears for his last appearance. Even more color drained from his face and the furrows in his head smoothed out a little. And I knew he was dead…” There was sentiment among reports at Chessman’s funeral that the gas chamber was not really the painless process it was billed as.
  • 17. Allen Lee Davis E xecution in F lorida in 1999
    • Davis was a 344-pound killer nicknamed “Tiny” who bled all
    • over himself as he was put to death in Florida’s new
    • improved electric chair . The blood appeared to come from
    • his mouth & chest, but state officials said it was a nosebleed
    • and insisted the new chair worked properly. His lawyers had tried to stop the execution on the grounds that the voltage wouldn’t be enough to kill a 344-pound man , quickly and painlessly. This new chair replaced “Old Sparky” which had been used to execute more than 200 people since 1923. T he electrical equipment did come from the old chair.
    • Corrections officials said the old chair was falling apart . In 1990, an execution caused a violent scene in which smoke and foot-long flames spurted from the victim’s head . It had also raised concern after a 1997 execution in which flames shot from the head of the condemned man . The problem which was later blamed on an error in the way sponges were applied to his head , led inmates to argue that the electric chair amounts to cruel and unusual punishment .
    • The victim’s father said, “They’re concerned about his hair catching fire and that there is smoke. They ought to put marshmallows on his head.”
  • 18. K arla F aye T ucker - 1998 [first woman executed in Texas since the Civil War]
    • Tucker was a hooker and drug abuser who became a biker and committed a robbery [stealing a Harley] in Houston, Texas in 1983 by killing two people with a pickaxe , while high on speed. She used the pickaxe to put 11 deep stab wounds in Jerry Lynn Dean’s throat and chest. As he was dying she later said she “reached multiple orgasms.” Then she went after the man’s girlfriend , Debbie Thornton, but her arms got so tired that she gave the pickax to her boyfriend to finish the job. Later she bragged about this to her sister who was so disgusted by her story that she turned her into the police.
    • She became a born again Christian and married by proxy the prison chaplain whom she was allowed to see during the marriage ceremony only thru an acrylic glass barrier.
    • Former Governor George W. Bush rejected her request for a reprieve. She died 8 minutes after the fatal mix.
    • Women are arrested for 1 out of every 10 murders but make up only 1 of every 70 inmates on death row.
  • 19. U.S. Executions Since 1976
    • Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, 1,064 convicted murderers have been executed in the United States. (As of March, 2007)
    • Of those executed, 11 were female . (The last was Frances Elaine Newton in Texas on September 14, 2005).
    • Of those executed, 22 were under the age of 18 at the time of the murder . (The last was Scott Allen Hain in Oklahoma on April 3, 2003).
    • Of those executed, 613 (58%) were white and 367 (34%) were black .
    • Of those executed: 895 (84%) were executed by lethal injection , including 409 of the last 413 executions. 153 were executed by electric chair (The last was Brandon Hedrick in Virginia on July 20, 2006). 11 were executed by gas chamber (The last was Walter LeGrand in Arizona on March 3, 1999). 3 were executed by hanging (The last was Billy Bailey in Delaware on January 25, 1996). 2 were executed by firing squad (The last was John Albert Taylor in Utah on January 27, 1996).
    • Executions were held in 32 different states : 385 (36%) were in Texas and 17 were in Indiana.
    • There are currently 3,344 on death row. Only 50 are women.
  • 20. Electrocution by state 1890-1966 Florida’s new oak electric chair-1998 4,461 1890-2006 Grand total During the period 1977 – 2006 a further 151 men & 2 women have been electrocuted in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Nebraska, SC, and Virginia. 4,308 1890-1966 Total 9 1951-1959 West Virginia 236 1908-1962 Virginia 5 1919-1954 Vermont 361 1924-1964 Texas 125 1916-1960 Tennessee 1 1947 South Dakota 241 1912-1962 South Carolina 350 1915-1962 Pennsylvania 83 1915-1966 Oklahoma 315 1897-1963 Ohio 167 1910-1938 North Carolina 695 1890-1963 New York 7 1933-1956 New Mexico 160 1907-1963 New jersey 12 1920- 1955 Nebraska 76 1940-1954 Mississippi 65 1901-1947 Massachusetts 68 1941-1961 Louisiana 171 1911-1962 Kentucky 59 1914-1961 Indiana 98 1928-1962 Illinois 417 1924-1964 Georgia 197 1924-1964 Florida 50 1928-1957 Dist. of Columbia 18 1937-1960 Connecticut 169 1913-1964 Arkansas 153 1927-1965 Alabama No. electrocuted Used from/to State
  • 21. The End 11 of the 40 women who have been executed.