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Killin' Ain't Easy

Are you for the death penalty?... And what method would you choose to die if YOU were on Death Row?

(Get well soon, Dr. Dre.)

No matter what form you ultimately choose, there is a chance that the mode of execution will be botched.

How often do they fail?… Austin Sarat wrote a book called Gruesome Spectacles, and in it, he did all the legwork to reveal, from 1890 to 2010, the U.S. executed 8,776 people. Of those executions, 276 were bungled in some way.  The rate of botched lethal injections in the United States was 7.1%… That's higher than any other form of execution, with firing squads (which are still carried out in China, Indonesia, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Taiwan, and Yemen) have a 0% failure rate, the electric chair at 1.9%, hanging at 3.1%, and the gas chamber at 5.4%… 

They don't include beheadings here, which take place mainly in Saudi Arabia for the crimes of adultery, blasphemy, homosexuality, and sorcery (obviously)…. But I imagine they are pretty efficient.

Giphy Images.

And since firing squads apparently always work here’s a couple of examples of how the others sometimes don’t…

I culled all of these examples from some scatter Wiki articles but mainly from the Death Penalty Information Center (or DPIC)… If you have an interest in this weird shit also, you can find these and a number of other accounts at

Electric Chair Fuckups

- April 22, 1983. Alabama. John Evans. Electrocution. After the first jolt of electricity, sparks and flames erupted from the electrode attached to Evans’s leg. The electrode burst from the strap holding it in place and caught on fire. Smoke and sparks also came out from under the hood in the vicinity of Evans’s left temple. Two physicians entered the chamber and found a heartbeat. The electrode was reattached to his leg, and another jolt of electricity was applied. This resulted in more smoke and burning flesh. Again the doctors found a heartbeat. Ignoring the pleas of Evans’s lawyer, a third jolt of electricity was applied. The execution took 14 minutes and left Evans’s body charred and smoldering.

- May 4, 1990. Florida. Jesse Joseph Tafero. Electrocution. During the execution, six-inch flames erupted from Tafero’s head, and three jolts of power were required to stop his breathing. State officials claimed that the botched execution was caused by “inadvertent human error”… The inappropriate substitution of a synthetic sponge for a natural sponge that had been used in previous executions. 

- March 25, 1997. Florida. Pedro Medina. Electrocution. A crown of foot-high flames shot from the headpiece during the execution, filling the execution chamber with a stench of thick smoke and gagging the two dozen official witnesses. An official then threw a switch to manually cut off the power and prematurely end the two-minute cycle of 2,000 volts. Medina’s chest continued to heave until the flames stopped and death came. After the execution, prison officials blamed the fire on a corroded copper screen in the headpiece of the electric chair, but two experts hired by the governor later concluded that the fire was… AGAIN… caused by the improper application of that darned sponge.

- July 8, 1999. Florida. Allen Lee Davis. Electrocution by God. “Before he was pronounced dead … the blood from his mouth had poured onto the collar of his white shirt, and the blood on his chest had spread to about the size of a dinner plate, even oozing through the buckle holes on the leather chest strap holding him to the chair.” His execution was the first in Florida’s new electric chair, built especially so it could accommodate a man Davis’s size (approximately 350 pounds). Later, when another Florida death row inmate challenged the constitutionality of the electric chair, Florida Supreme Court Justice Leander Shaw commented that “the color photos of Davis being executed depict a man who was "brutally tortured to death by the citizens of Florida.” Justice Shaw included pictures of Davis’s dead body in his opinion. The execution was witnessed by a Florida State Senator, Ginny Brown-Waite, who at first was “shocked” to see the blood until she realized that the blood was forming the shape of a cross and she thought that was a message from God saying he supported the execution, SO the electric chair stayed.

One Gas Chamber Gaffe

- April 6, 1992. Arizona. Donald Eugene Harding. Asphyxiation. Death was not pronounced until 10 1/2 minutes after the cyanide tablets were dropped. During the execution, Harding thrashed and struggled violently against the restraining straps. A television journalist who witnessed the execution, Cameron Harper, said that Harding’s spasms and jerks lasted 6 minutes and 37 seconds. “Obviously, this man was suffering. This was a violent death … an ugly event. We put animals to death more humanely.” Another witness, newspaper reporter Carla McClain, said, “Harding’s death was extremely violent. He was in great pain. I heard him gasp and moan. I saw his body turn from red to purple.” One reporter who witnessed the execution suffered from insomnia and assorted illnesses for several weeks; two others were “walking vegetables” for several days.

Lethal Injections Gone Wrong 

Failures typically deal with executioners' inability to find viable veins (particularly on junkies)… 

- December 13, 1988. Texas. Raymond Landry. Lethal Injection. Pronounced dead 40 minutes after being strapped to the execution gurney and 24 minutes after the drugs first started flowing into his arms… Why the delay?… Well, two minutes after the drugs were administered, the syringe came out of Landry’s vein, spraying the deadly chemicals across the room toward witnesses. The curtain separating the witnesses from the inmate was then pulled, and not reopened for fourteen minutes while the execution team reinserted the catheter into the vein. 

- May 10, 1994. Illinois. John Wayne Gacy. Lethal Injection. After the execution began, the lethal chemicals unexpectedly solidified, clogging the IV tube that led into Gacy’s arm, and prohibiting any further passage. Blinds covering the window through which witnesses observed the execution were drawn, and the execution team replaced the clogged tube with a new one. Ten minutes later, the blinds were then reopened and the execution process resumed. It took 18 minutes to complete. Anesthesiologists blamed the problem on the inexperience of prison officials who were conducting the execution.

- June 13, 1997. South Carolina. Michael Eugene Elkins. Lethal Injection. Because Elkins’s body had become swollen from liver and spleen problems, it took nearly an hour to find a suitable vein for the insertion of the catheter. Elkins tried to assist the executioners, asking “Should I lean my head down a little bit?” … And, as a result, a usable vein was finally found in Elkins’s neck.

And maybe the most high-profile execution-gone-wrong… 

One of the most famous botch-jobs was the execution of Clayton Lockett… On April 29, 2014 (aged 38) at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary Clayton died of a heart attack brought on by an unsuccessful lethal injection.

He died of an apparent heart attack 43 minutes after the procedure began… A procedure that normally takes 6-10 minutes.

Here’s what happened: They had to go in through his groin with a questionable mixture of 3 injections… one to sedate… one to paralyze him… and the last to stop his heart.

A kink in the hose or a case of the needle moving out of the vein and into his muscle caused the drugs to not be properly administered, and the pain and stress of the procedure caused him to have a heart attack on the table.

Prison officials reportedly discussed taking Lockett to a hospital before he died of a heart attack, but they ultimately did not.

This story sent human rights activists across the globe into fucking orbit… Including Obama, saying what had happened was "deeply disturbing”, and perhaps it was… But so was what happened to Stephanie Neiman, a 19-year-old high school graduate.

You Google “Clayton Lockett” and he’s become a cover girl for anti-death penalty people who go into great detail about what happened to him that night in Oklahoma… But I had to go a couple of pages into it before I found out what happened to Stephanie.

Neiman was dropping off a friend at her house, the same evening Clayton Lockett and two accomplices decided to pull a home invasion robbery there. The men beat Stephanie and used duct tape to bind her hands and cover her mouth.

Neiman was forced to watch as Lockett's accomplice, Shawn Mathis, spent 20 minutes digging a shallow grave in a ditch beside the road.

Lockett then shot Steph in the chest, but she didn't die.  The gun jammed, so he had to walk back to his truck to get a screwdriver to free his barrel while Stephanie clung to life for 20 minutes.  Once the gun was fixed, he shot her again and, once again, Stephanie refused to die.

So he buried her alive.

In 2000, he was convicted of rape, forcible sodomy, kidnapping, and murder before being sentenced to death… DNA from the body and fingerprints from the duct tape used to bind Stephanie are what ultimately got him.

I guess my point is that I can go back and forth with the moral question: Is the death penalty is an acceptable form of punishment in a civilized society?, but I always have a hard time showing sympathy for the pieces of shit who wind up either at the end of the rope, electrified sponged, or misplaced needle once I ponder what got them there.

All of these stories and more can be found in this week's edition of Twisted History: The Twisted History of Executions… Here are some links:

MERCH (for people who are proud of being a weird geek)