Photos: Ten executions gone horribly wrong

Capitol punishment has made plenty of news in Colorado lately, thanks to a failed attempt to ban the practice and 18th Judicial District DA George Brauchler's pledge to seek seek the death penalty against accused Aurora theater shooter James Holmes.

But what about when executions go wrong? CU Professor Michael Radelet assembled a long list of examples, from which we chose nine startling stories, supplemented by one from Westword's archives. Get the details below.

Note that the text for the following items is culled from Radelet's item "Examples of Post-Furman Botched Executions," shared by the Death Penalty Information Center, except the final item, derived from Alan Prendergast's 2012 post "Eddie Ives's botched execution and replacing the noose with the gas chamber."

Frank J. Coppola

Frank James Coppola.
Frank James Coppola.

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.

Jimmy Lee Gray

Jimmy Lee Gray.
Jimmy Lee Gray.

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)." Later it was revealed that the executioner, Barry Bruce, was drunk.

John Evans

John Evans.
John Evans.

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 fourteen minutes and left Evans's body charred and smoldering.

Raymond Landry

Raymond Landry.
Raymond Landry.

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. 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. Witnesses reported "at least one groan." A spokesman for the Texas Department of Correction, Charles Brown (sic), said, "There was something of a delay in the execution because of what officials called a 'blowout.' The syringe came out of the vein, and the warden ordered the (execution) team to reinsert the catheter into the vein."

Continue for more examples of executions gone horribly wrong. 



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