According to a 2012 study published by the British Journal of American Legal Studies, 3% of all executions within the United States run into complications. It is partially due to these startling statistics that the death penalty remains a controversial issue for some. Death penalty advocates claim that even when a means of carrying out a death sentence goes horribly wrong, it is still far more justified than the horror these inmates inflicted upon their victims. I have collected what I believe to be some of the worst cases of executions gone terribly awry and I will allow for the reader to decide for themselves whether death sentence protocols are in need of reform or if justice was served.
Sentenced to death by electric chair for counts ranging from kidnapping to murder, John Evans took his final breath on April 22, 1983. Witnesses claim that it took three attempts at sending 9,000 volts of electricity to surge through his body in order to finally stop Evans’ heart. The first two tugs of the switch failed to kill Evans; instead his body and clothing ignited, filling the death chamber with the putrid stench of charcoaled flesh and clothing. After a physician was sent into the chamber to examine Evans, it was determined that he had survived the first two blasts of electric shock. Evans’ lawyers attempted to cease the execution, but the motion was dismissed. The third shock was initiated and finally killed Evans, leaving behind his badly charred remains. In 2002 Alabama adopted lethal injection as a “more humane” means of death.
In Another case of death by electrocution gone horribly awry involved convicted murderer Jesse Tafero. Like Evans, Tafero was forced to endure several jolts before finally being pronounced dead by prison medical staff. One foot flames were seen shooting out of Tafero’s head after the first electrical surge was initiated. After the flames emanating from Tafero’s head were extinguished, a second surge was administered. Although Tafero’s head and upper torso were covered in second and third degree burns, it wouldn’t be until he received the third shock that he would be pronounced dead. Tafero’s particularly brutal execution is often cited by death penalty opponents.
Jimmy Lee Gray
Some may say that Jimmy Lee Gray got what he deserved on September 2, 1983. Receiving the death sentence for the murder and sodomy of a 3-year-old while on parole for killing a 16-year-old girl, Gray’s death was anything but quick and painless. Gray was escorted into the gas chamber and the executioner knocked on the door in order to indicate that it was time to begin the execution process. Gray was strapped into a chair using arm, leg, and chest restraints. As plumes of cyanide gas filled the room Gray’s veins bulged. He began turning shades of blue and purple and thrashing his body about violently. Gray’s head lunged forward and he began banging it on a metal pole located directly behind the chair. It was clear that Gray was in immense pain. Witnesses were asked to leave the observation area, but those that were there claim that the images of Gray gasping and struggling during his final moments will be forever burned into their conscious.
Allen Lee Davis
Receiving his death sentence in 1982 for the slaying of a pregnant woman and her two young daughters, Allen “Tiny” Davis’ execution would eventually be cited in order to appeal the use of the electric chair as a humane method of justice within the state of Florida. After administering the first shock blood began collecting on Davis’ shirt. After several more shocks were delivered to Davis, the spot of blood grew to about 8in across and saturated the death chamber floor. Officials claim that it was simply a nose bleed, but further investigation revealed negligence at the hand of the executioner. Due to Davis’ size, it was determined that the electrical voltages delivered were insufficient to instantaneously kill him.
After murdering his long time girlfriend as well as her father, Joseph Wood was sentenced to death by lethal injection. Wood was administered the standard 3 drug cocktail. It would take a total of one and a half hours before Wood would finally be pronounced dead by medical staff. Strapped to a gurney, it wasn’t long before Wood began to gasp and show visible signs of pain. For nearly two hours Wood lied on the gurney struggling to breathe and unable to move. Wood’s execution would later raise questions about the drug protocol used for lethal injection.
As a civilized people, we owe it to ourselves to continue to ask ourselves “what is an appropriate punishment for some of the worst criminal offenders among us?” The answer has historically been whatever is not considered “cruel or unusual”, but with so many possible pitfalls to execution, can any method of killing a human being not be considered “cruel” or “unusual”?