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The Botched Electrocution of Tiny Davis
forced Florida to switch to lethal injection


Post-Furman Botched Executions

(Since Capital Punishment was re-instated)

1. April 22, 1983. Alabama. John Evans. After the first jolt of
electricity, sparks and flames erupted from the electrode attached to his
leg. The electrode then burst from the strap holding it in place and
caught on fire. Smoke and sparks came out from under the hood. Two
physicians entered the chamber and found a heartbeat. The electrode was
reattached to his leg. More smoke and burning flesh. Again doctors found
a heartbeat. Ignoring the pleas of Evan's lawyer, Russ Canan
(202-292-7676), a third jolt was applied. The execution took 14 minutes
and left Evan's body charred and smoldering. Canan describes the
experience in M. L. Radelet (Ed.), Facing the Death Penalty: Essays on a
Cruel and Unusual Punishment (1989). (See also Glass v. Louisiana, 471 U.S. 1080 (1985)).

2. Sept. 2, 1983. Mississippi. Jimmy Lee Gray. Officials had to clear the
room eight minutes after the gas was released when Gray's desperate gasps
for air repulsed witnesses. His attorney, Dennis Balske of Montgomery,
Alabama, criticized state officials for clearing the room when the inmate
was still alive. Says David Bruck, "Jimmy Lee Gray died banging his head
against a steel pole in the gas chamber while reporters counted his moans
(eleven, according to the Associated Press)" (Bruck, New Republic, Dec. 12, 1983 at 24-25).

3. December 12, 1984. Georgia. Alpha Otis Stephens. After the first jolt
of electricity failed to kill him , Stephens struggled for eight minutes
before a second charge finished the job. The first jolt took two minutes,
and there was a six minute pause so his body could cool before physicians
could examine him (and declare that another jolt was needed.)
During that six-minute interval, Stephens took 23 breaths.

4. March 13, 1985. Texas. Stephen Peter Morin. Had to probe both arms and
legs with needles for 45 minutes before they found the vein.

5. October 16, 1985. Indiana. William E. Vandiver. He was still breathing
after the first administration of 2,300 volts, and the current had to be
applied three more times before he died. Vandiver's attorney, Herbert
Shaps, witnessed the killing and said it was outrageous. The Department
of Corrections admitted the execution "did not go according to plan." The
physician who pronounced death said, "This is very rare."

6. August 20, 1986. Texas. Randy Woolls. A drug addict, Woolls had to
help the executioner technicians find a good vein for the execution.

7. June 24, 1987. Texas. Elliott Johnson.
It took 35 minutes to insert a catheter into his vein.

8. December 13, 1988. Texas. Raymond Landry. Pronounced dead 40 minutes
after being strapped to the execution gurney and 24 minutes after the
drugs first started flowing into his arms. Two minutes into the killing,
the syringe came out of Landry's vein, spraying the deadly chemicals
across the room toward the witnesses. The execution team had to reinsert
the catheter into the vein. The curtain was drawn for 14 minutes so
witnesses could not see the intermission.

9. May 24, 1989. Texas. Stephen McCoy. Had such a violent physical
reaction to the drugs (heaving chest, gasping, choking, etc.) that one of
the witnesses (male) fainted, crashing into and knocking over another
witness. Houston attorney Karen Zellars, who represented McCoy and
witnessed the execution, thought that the fainting would catalyze a chain
reaction. The Texas Attorney General admitted the inmate "seemed to have
a somewhat stronger reaction," adding "The drugs might have been
administered in a heavier dose or more rapidly."

10. July 14, 1989. Alabama. Horace F. Dunkins. It took two jolts (nine
minutes apart) to kill this mentally retarded inmate. The foul-up was
caused by "human error:" faulty cable hookups. As a result, there was not
enough current to cause death. His attorney was Steve Ellis of
Philadelphia. Death was pronounced 19 minutes after the first jolt.

11. May 4, 1990. Florida. Jesse Joseph Tafero. When the state replaced a
"natural" sponge with a synthetic sponge in the headpiece of the
execution apparatus, six-inch flames erupted, and three jolts of power
were required to stop Tafero's breathing. Support for the state's faulty
sponge theory was generated by sticking a part of it into a "common
household toaster" and noting that it smoldered and caught fire.
Extensive investigation by the office of the Capital Collateral
Investigator in Tallahassee questioned this theory as other states have
used synthetic sponges with no problems.

12. October 17, 1990. Virginia. Wilbert Lee Evens. During the
electrocution, blood spewed from the right side of the mask on Evens'
face, drenching Evens' shirt with blood. Evens' continued to moan after
the first jolt of electricity was applied. The autopsy concluded that the
blood resulted from high blood pressure brought on by the electrocution.

13. August 22, 1991. Virginia. Derick Lynn Peterson. After a physician
determined that the first cycle of electricity had failed to kill
Peterson, a second cycle was required. It was the second time this
electrical equipment had been used since Virginia's electric chair had
been moved to Greenville from the state's old death house in Richmond. In
the aftermath of the execution, prison officials announced that in the
future they would routinely administer two cycles before checking for a heart beat.

14. January 24, 1992. Arkansas. Rickey Ray Rector. It took medical staff
more than 50 minutes to find a suitable vein in Rector's arm. Witnesses
were not permitted to view this scene, but reported hearing Rector's loud
moans throughout the process. During the ordeal, Rector (who suffered
serious brain damage from a lobotomy) tried to help the medical personal
find a vein. The administrator of the State's Department of Corrections
medical programs said (paraphrased by a newspaper reporter) "the moans
did come as a team of two medical people that had grown to five worked on
both sides of his body to find a vein." The administrator said "that may
have contributed to his occasional outburst."

15. March 10, 1992. Oklahoma. Robyn Lee Parks. Parks had a violent
reaction to the drugs used in the lethal injection. Two minutes after the
drugs were administered, the muscles in his jaw, neck, and abdomen began
to react spasmodically for approximately 45 seconds. Parks continued to
gasp and violently gag. Death came eleven minutes after the drugs were
administered. Said Tulsa World reporter Wayne Greene, "the death looked scary and ugly."

16. April 23, 1992. Texas. Billy Wayne White. It took 47 minutes for
authorities to find a suitable vein, and White eventually had to help them.

17. May 7, 1992. Texas. Justin Lee May. May had an unusually violent
reaction to the lethal drugs. According to Robert Wernsman, a reporter
for the Item (Huntsville), May "gasped, coughed and reared against his
heavy leather restraints, coughing once again before his body froze. . ."
Associated Press reporter Michael Graczyk wrote, " He went into coughing
spasms, groaned and gasped, lifted his head from the death chamber gurney
and would have arched his back if he had not been belted down. After he
stopped breathing his eyes and mouth remained open."

18. May 10, 1994. Illinois. John Wayne Gacy. After the execution began,
one of the three lethal drugs clogged the tube leading to Gacy's arm, and
therefore stopped flowing. Blinds, covering the window through which
witnesses observe the execution, were then drawn. The clogged tube was
replaced with a new one, the blinds were opened, and the execution
process resumed. Anesthesiologists blamed the problem on the inexperience
of the prison officials who were conducting the execution, saying that
proper procedures taught in "IV 101" would have prevented the error.

19. May 3, 1995. Missouri. Emmitt Foster. Foster was not pronounced dead
until 30 minutes after the executioners began the flow of the death
chemicals into his arms. Seven minutes after the chemicals began to flow,
the blinds were closed to prohibit the witnesses from viewing the scene;
they were not reopened until three minutes after death was pronounced.
According to the coroner, who pronounced death, the problem was caused by
the tightness of the leather straps that bound Foster to the gurney; it
was so tight that the flow of chemicals into his veins was restricted. It
was several minutes after a prison worker finally loosened the strap that
death was pronounced. The coroner entered the death chamber twenty
minutes after the execution began, noticed the problem, and told the
officials to loosen the strap so that the execution could proceed.

20. July 18, 1996. Indiana. Tommie Smith. Smith was not pronounced dead
until an hour and 20 minutes after the execution team began to administer
the lethal combination of intravenous drugs. Prison officials said the
team could not find a vein in Smith's arm and had to insert an
angio-catheter into his heart, a procedure that took 35 minutes.
According to authorities, Smith remained conscious during that procedure.

21. March 25, 1997. Florida. Pedro Medina. With the first jolt of
electricity, blue and orange flames sparked from the mask covering
Medina's face. Flames up to a foot long shot out from the right side of
Medina's head for 6 - 10 seconds. The execution chamber clouded with
smoke, and the smell of burnt flesh filled the witness room.

22. May 8, 1997. Oklahoma. Scott Carpenter. Two minutes after the lethal
chemicals began flowing into the body of Scott Carpenter at 12:11 a.m.,
he began to make noises, his stomach and chest began pulsing, and his jaw
clenched. In total, his body mad 18 violent convulsions, followed by 8
milder ones. His face, which first turned a yellowish gray, had turned a
deep purple and gray by 12:20 a.m. He was officially pronounced dead at 12:22 a.m.

23. June 13, 1997. South Carolina. Michael Elkins. Elkins's execution was
delayed for 40 minutes while numerous attempts were made to insert the IV
needles in a suitable vein for the lethal injection. Because of Elkins'
poor physical condition, the first needle was ultimately inserted in
Elkins's neck (attempts to use his arms, legs, feet were not successful)
and the second needle was not used.

24. April 23, 1998. Texas. Joseph Cannon. It took two attempts to
complete the execution of Joseph Cannon. The first time, a vein in his
arm collapsed and the needle popped out. Cannon had laid back and closed
his eyes when he realized what had happened. "It's come undone" he told
witnesses. Officials pulled a curtain to block witnesses from seeing what
was happening and fifteen minutes later the second attempt began.

25. July 8, 1999. Florida. Allen Lee Davis.


When hit with the 2,300 volts, blood poured from Davis' mouth.
The blood poured onto the collar of his white shirt, and oozed onto his chest.

By the time he was pronounced dead, the stain on Davis' chest had grown to the size of a dinner plate,
and seeped through buckle holes on the leather chest strap holding him to the chair.

Davis was the first inmate to be executed in Florida's new electric chair.

For an up to date listing of botched excutions visit DPIC:


June 8, 2000. Florida. Bennie Demps. Lethal Injection. It took execution technicians 33 minutes
to find suitable veins for the execution. "They butchered me back there,"
said Demps in his final statement. "I was in a lot of pain. They cut me in the groin;
they cut me in the leg. I was bleeding profusely. This is not an execution, it is murder."
The executioners had no unusual problems finding one vein, but because Florida protocol
requires a second alternate intravenous drip, they continued to work to insert another needle,
finally abandoning the effort after their prolonged failures.

Sept. 15, 2009. Ohio. Romell Broom. Lethal Injection. Efforts to find a suitable vein and to execute
Mr. Broom were terminated after more than two hours when the executioners were
unable to find a useable vein in Mr. Broom’s arms or legs. During the failed efforts,
Mr. Broom winced and grimaced with pain. After the first hour’s lack of success,
on several occasions Broom tried to help the executioners find a good vein.
“At one point, he covered his face with both hands and appeared to be sobbing,
his stomach heaving.
Finally, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland ordered the execution to stop,
and announced plans to attempt the execution anew after a one-week delay so that physicians
 could be consulted for advice on how the man could be killed more efficiently.

The executioners blamed the problems on Mr. Broom’s history of intravenous drug use.
As of Oct. 1, 2010, Mr. Broom remained on Ohio’s death row.

Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction spokeswoman Julie Walburn discussing the new
execution protocols to prevent complications administering the lethal injection process in the state.


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Last updated December 29, 2010  Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty
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