The competition

Speaking of the US rivalry with Saudi Arabia over who can inflict the most sadistic punishments, the Death Penalty Information Center gives us some examples of botched executions. Not all; just some.

Be warned – obviously this is not pleasant reading.

NOTE: The cases below are not presented as a comprehensive catalogue of all botched executions, but simply a listing of examples that are well-known.  There are 44 executions listed: 2 by asphyxiation, 10 by electrocution, and 32 by lethal injection, and 1 attempted execution by lethal injection.

  1. August 10, 1982. Virginia. Frank J. Coppola. Electrocution.

    Although no media representatives witnessed the execution and no details were ever released by the Virginia Department of Corrections, an attorney who was present later stated that it took two 55-second jolts of electricity to kill Coppola. The second jolt produced the odor and sizzling sound of burning flesh, and Coppola’s head and leg caught on fire. Smoke filled the death chamber from floor to ceiling with a smoky haze.[1]

The next one is also an electrocution and it’s nightmarish. Why is this supposed to be a relatively “humane” method?

3. Sept. 2, 1983. Mississippi. Jimmy Lee Gray. Asphyxiation. 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. Said noted death penalty defense attorney David Bruck, “Jimmy Lee Gray died banging his head against a steel pole in the gas chamber while the reporters counted his moans (eleven, according to the Associated Press).”[3] Later it was revealed that the executioner, Barry Bruce, was drunk.[4]

One more.

18. March 10, 1992. Oklahoma. Robyn Lee Parks. Lethal Injection. Parks had a violent reaction to the drugs used in the lethal injection. Two minutes after the drugs were dispensed, the muscles in his jaw, neck, and abdomen began to react spasmodically for approximately 45 seconds. Parks continued to gasp and violently gag until death came, some eleven minutes after the drugs were first administered. Tulsa World reporter Wayne Greene wrote that the execution looked “painful and ugly,” and “scary.” “It was overwhelming, stunning, disturbing — an intrusion into a moment so personal that reporters, taught for years that intrusion is their business, had trouble looking each other in the eyes after it was over.”[27]

We rival Saudi Arabia.

When you rival Saudi Arabia in the violence and cruelty of your judicial punishments, something is wrong.


  1. Blanche Quizno says

    It is not uncommon for those whose job is executioner to commit suicide. Those who work in that “business” have frequent problems with drugs and alcohol, depression, and other psychological trauma.

    On the executed’s death certificate, the cause of death is “homicide”, which means, most loosely, “a human being killed by another human being.” It’s never done by those who have delivered a guilty verdict or imposed that sentence. But SOMEbody has to do it. And those persons have no say in the matter and have played no part in the executed’s sentencing.

    Interestingly, it is Protestant Christians (the majority in the US) who are most likely to be in favor of the death penalty. Also, political conservatives tend to be pro-death-penalty. That shouldn’t be too surprising, as Protestant Christians are also more likely to be politically conservative. According to a Gallup poll from ca. 2009, it was the Mormons who ranked as the most conservative, and predictably, most Mormons are in favor of capital punishment.

  2. says

    Why is this supposed to be a relatively “humane” method?

    Execution by electrocution was introduced during a commercial pissing contest between Edison Electric and Westinghouse over whether Alternating Current or Direct Current should be the standard. Edison (on the DC side) used to demonstrate how AC could be used to kill animals, publicly electrocuting cats, dogs, and horses – ignoring the fact that DC can also electrocute you, only not quite as easily. It was one of Edison’s employees, or Edison himself who invented the electric chair and tried to popularize the term “getting Westinghoused” for being electrocuted. From the very first attempts to kill using the electric chair, it has been horrific, awful, and frequently unsuccessful.

  3. Intaglio says

    I am against all capital punishment, it should not occur.

    However if the USA has to continue this perversion of justice then they might try going for the long drop. Albert Pierrepoint made an effort to ensure that executions were rapid, in one case achieving this in 7 seconds from the time of leaving the condemned cell (British Prisons had the condemned cell opening directly into the execution chamber).

  4. lorn says

    Marcus Ranum @ #2 gets it right.
    Edison thought hat he could discredit AC electricity by associating it with death. He killed quite a list of animals, including at least one elephant, with AC current. He coined the term “electrocution”, meaning death by electricity. It has since taken on a connotation of getting a bad electrical shock.

  5. liminus says

    July 8, 1999. Florida. Allen Lee Davis. Electrocution. “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.” … 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 that it was a message from God saying he supported the execution. WHAT I DON’T EVEN

  6. =8)-DX says

    Well killing isn’t supposed to be ‘nice’? When punishing a mass murderer the goal isn’t “kill them in a nice way”. Killing, and death, are ugly, undignified, brutal and humans naturally abhor it.

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