Stats show that about 3 percent of the executions that took place in the United States between 1890 and 2019 were botched in some way. The earlier execution methods such as electric chairs and gas chambers are now considered to be cruel and unusual punishment ways.
Then the method of lethal injection was introduced in order to replace the old methods of capital punishment. However, lethal injection has the highest botched attempts rate of 7 percent according to the Austin Sarat book, Botched Executions and America’s Death Penalty.
The botched execution rate of lethal injection is followed by the gas chamber that has 5.4 percent, hanging 3 percent, and electric chair 2 percent. Lastly, death by firing squad which is known to be a cruel and unusual punishment has a 0 percent botched rate.
What is Botched Execution?
Botched execution is a breakdown or failure of a particular method of execution. It reflects the gross incompetence of the executioner that causes unnecessary agony for the person being executed.
Giving a lethal injection with wrong dosages or wrong drug combinations of specific drugs, being strangled rather than having necks broken, and inmates catching fire during execution on electric chairs are some examples of such problems.
The following are some of the biggest real-world examples of botched executions.
Jesse Joseph Tafero – Flames Erupted from the Head
In May 1990, Jesse Joseph Tafero, who was a rapist and a convicted murderer sentenced to the death penalty, was placed into the electric chair and he had three jolts before dying. It was an inadvertent human error and the witnesses said that there were six-inch flames that erupted from the Tafero’s head in the first attempt. The second jolt didn’t kill him either and finally, the executioner had to give him a third jolt to kill him.
People also said that they started smelling the burning flesh in the first two attempts and he was still alive. The most tragic part of the story is that one of the accomplices of Tafero said that he was responsible for the murders that were linked with Tafero.
Raymond Landry – Spray of Lethal Chemicals
Raymond Landry was sentenced to die by lethal injection because he killed the owner of a Texas restaurant. He was injected with lethal chemicals but suddenly the IV needle exploded. Witnesses reported that he was groaning at that time.
A second injection was administered but it took 40 minutes until he was pronounced dead. A Texas Department of Correction spokesperson said that there was a delay because the syringe came out.
Alpha Otis Stephens – Not Conducting Electricity
Alpha Otis Stephens was placed into an electric chair in 1984 but the first jolt failed to kill him. Stephens kept struggling for about eight minutes and then the second charge carried out Alpha Otis Stephens’ death sentence.
Clayton D. Lockett – Died of a Heart Attack
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections planned the execution of Charles Warner and Clayton Lockett by lethal injection. Interestingly, an experimental drug was used despite the attorneys’ warnings. The combination of lethal drugs was also kept a secret but still, the state Supreme Court allowed the Department of Corrections to proceed with the execution.
The first drug was given to Clayton Lockett and the physician said that the prisoner is unconscious and now can take other two drugs that cause excruciating pain. However, Clayton Lockett wasn’t unconscious.
Right after the administration of the other two drugs, he started straining to lift his head, clenching his teeth, and breathing heavily. Then the witnesses were ordered to leave that room. It took 43 minutes to kill Clayton Lockett and he died of a heart attack in the execution chamber. The execution of Charles Warner was delayed.
John Marion Grant – Three Drug Lethal Injection Protocol Failure
It’s yet another story of the three-drug injection protocol failure. But this time the prisoner started vomiting after the first drug and kept doing that for several minutes. Grant’s execution team had to clean the vomit from his neck and face. Sean Murphy, an associated press media witness said that the body of the prisoner jerked and shook about two dozen times before he started vomiting. It was a violent reaction to the drugs and he remained in pain until declared dead.
The legal team argued before Grant’s execution that the three-drug injection protocol causes unnecessary pain and the team also said the that executive director, Robert Dunham, from the Death Penalty Information Center knew it is he didn’t care. The eyewitness account of the execution of John Marion Grant showed that the Oklahoma State Penitentiary protocol didn’t work at all.
Pedro Medina – A Prisoner with Foot-High Flames
Pedro Medina was a convicted murderer but his execution was also botched. According to two dozen official witnesses, foot-high flames shot from Pedro Medina’s head while he was being executed on an electric chair. They said that the prisoner kept burning and writhing until he finally died.
Donald Eugene Harding – Delayed Death
Donald Eugene Harding was not pronounced dead until 10 to 11 minutes after he was administered with cyanide tablets. He struggled and thrashed terribly and it was a violent death. Carla McClain, a newspaper reporter, who was a witness, said that Harding’s death was very painful and extremely violent. She also said that she saw her body turn purple.
Allen Lee Davis – Blood All Over
Allen Lee Davis was a killer and had a very huge body. His weight was about 350 pounds and the officials from the Florida Department had to make a special electric chair just to execute him. The witnesses said that he died in an extremely brutal way. They also mentioned that his blood was pouring out of his mouth onto his chest and shirt and it had spread to about the size of a large plate.
Some people even said that his blood reached the leather chest strap, holding the prisoner to the electric chair. After seeing the photo of the execution, the Florida state senator said that the blood formed a cross shape, which means that his execution was approved by God.
Regardless of how your feel about the law of the death penalty, no one should die in the ways that the prisoners mentioned above did. These are only a few cases of botched execution as the total number is more than 8,000.