Tuesday, July 12, 2005


Book, film to examine botched La. execution


Acadiana bureau

LAFAYETTE -- On May 3, 1946, 17-year-old Willie Francis was strapped into an electric chair on the top floor of the St. Martin Parish Jail to die for the murder of St. Martinville druggist Andrew Thomas.

On May 9, 1947, after surviving the electric current that surged through his body the first time, Francis was strapped to the chair again and executed in a case that attracted national attention and raised questions of whether a second execution attempt would be cruel and unusual punishment.

More than 50 years after Francis' execution, the case is the subject of a forthcoming book and a new documentary, separate projects that each take a different approach to the bizarre story -- one questioning Francis' guilt and the other focusing on the attorney who fought to spare his life.

"The first execution was the year I was born," said Lafayette lawyer Allan Durand, who is putting the finishing touches on the 30-minute documentary "Willie Francis Must Die Again."

Durand has a personal connection to the story -- the attorney who represented Francis in his bid to stop the second execution attempt was the younger brother of Durand's grandmother.

Click on the title to read the rest of this article.......

Monday, July 11, 2005


November 7, 2001...Georgia
Lethal Injection
Jose High's execution took 1 hour and 9 minutes. EMT's attempted to find a usable vein for 39 minutes before they bailed out. Eventually one needle was inserted into Mr. High's hand and a physician was brought in to insert another needle between his shoulder and neck.


May 3, 2000...Arkansas
Lethal Injection
Christina Marie Riggs was the first woman to be executed in the state of Arkansas. The execution began 18 minutes late because of the difficulty in finding a suitable vein to insert the catheters into. She agreed to have the catheters placed in veins in her wrists. It is not unusual for the prisoner to have help staff in this way.

June 8, 2000...Florida
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.

December 7, 2000...Texas
Lethal Injection
Jones was a former intravenous drug abuser. His execution was delayed 30 minutes while the execution "team" struggled to insert an IV into a vein. He had been a longtime intravenous drug user. One member of the execution team commented, "They had to stick him about five times. They finally put it in his leg." Wrote Jim Willett, the warden of the Walls Unit and the man responsible for conducting the execution, "The medical team could not find a vein. Now I was really beginning to worry. If you can't stick a vein then a cut-down has to be performed. I have never seen one and would just as soon go through the rest of my career the same way. Just when I was really getting worried, one of the medical people hit a vein in the left leg. Inside calf to be exact. The executioner had warned me not to panic as it was going to take a while to get the fluids in the body of the inmate tonight because he was going to push the drugs through very slowly. Finally, the drug took effect and Jones took his last breath

June 28, 2000...Missouri
Lethal Injection
Hunter had an unusual reaction to the lethal drugs, repeatedly coughing and gasping for air before he lapsed into unconsciousness. An attorney who witnessed the execution reported that Hunter had "violent convulsions. His head and chest jerked rapidly upward as far as the gurney restraints would allow, and then he fell quickly down upon the gurney. His body convulsed back and forth like this repeatedly. ... He suffered a violent and agonizing death."


July 8, 1999...Florida
"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 depict a man who -- for all appearances -- was brutally tortured to death by the citizens of Florida." Justice Shaw also described the botched executions of Jesse Tafero and Pedro Medina (q.v.), calling the three executions "barbaric spectacles" and "acts more befitting a violent murderer than a civilized state." 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 that it was a message from God saying he supported the execution.


April 23, 1998...Texas
Lethal Injection
It took two attempts to complete the execution. After making his final statement, the execution process began. A vein in Cannon's arm collapsed and the needle popped out. Seeing this, Cannon lay back, closed his eyes, and exclaimed to the witnesses, "It's come undone." Officials then pulled a curtain to block the view of the witnesses, reopening it fifteen minutes later when a weeping Cannon made a second final statement and the execution process resumed.

August 26, 1998...Texas
Lethal Injection

The execution was delayed approximately two hours due, in part, to problems finding suitable veins in Camacho's arms.

October 5, 1998...Nevada
Lethal Injection
It took 25 minutes for the execution team to find a vein suitable for the lethal injection.


March 25, 1997...Florida
Witnesses told of 6 inch flames coming from Pedro Medina's head as 2000 volts of electricty surged through his body. The electricity had to be manually stopped and Medina's chest heaved until the flames went out and he was pronounced dead. A window had to be opened by prison officials to clear the accrid smell of burning flesh. It was later found that the sponge used to conduct electrocity to the head was not properly applied.

May 8, 1997...Oklahoma
Lethal Injection
Carpenter was pronounced dead some 11 minutes after the lethal injection was administered. As the drugs took effect, Carpenter began to gasp and shake. "This was followed by a guttural sound, multiple spasms and gasping for air" until his body stopped moving, three minutes later.

June 13, 1997...South Carolina
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?" as they probed for a vein. After numerous failures, a usable vein was finally found in Elkins's neck.


January 23, 1996...Viriginia
Lethal Injection
This execution was delayed for 22 minutes while medical personnel struggled to find a vein large enough for the needle. After unsuccessful attempts to insert the needle through the arms, the needle was finally inserted through the top of Mr. Townes's right foot.

July 18, 1996...Indiana
Lethal Injection
Because of unusually small veins, it took one hour and nine minutes for Smith to be pronounced dead after the execution team began sticking needles into his body. For sixteen minutes, the execution team failed to find adequate veins, and then a physician was called.37 Smith was given a local anesthetic and the physician twice attempted to insert the tube in Smith's neck. When that failed, an angio-catheter was inserted in Smith's foot. Only then were witnesses permitted to view the process. The lethal drugs were finally injected into Smith 49 minutes after the first attempts, and it took another 20 minutes before death was pronounced.


May 3, 1995...Missouri
Lethal Injection
Foster was not pronounced dead until 30 minutes after the flow of chemicals began into his arms. After seven minutes the blinds were closed to prohibit the witnesses from viewing the scene; they were not reopened until three minutes after death pronounced. According to the coroner who pronounced death, the problem was caused by the tightness of the leather straps that bound Foster to the execution gurney; it was so tight that the flow of chemicals into the 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 then execution could proceed.


May 10, 1994...Illinois
Lethal Injection
John Wayne Gacy who had tortured and murdered 33 young men and boys during the 1970s was executed by lethal injection at the Stateville penitentiary in Joliet, Illinois. After the injection began, one of the three lethal drugs clogged the tube leading into Gacy's arm, and therefore stopped flowing. Blinds covering the window through which witnesses observed the execution were then drawn. The clogged tube was replaced with a new one, the blinds were opened, and the execution process resumed. Gacy actually took 18 minutes to die. Anaesthesiologists blamed the problem on the inexperience of prison officials who were conducting the execution, saying that proper procedures taught in IV 101 would have prevented the error.


January 24, 1992...Arkansas
Lethal Injection
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 tried to help the medical personnel find a vein. Attendants were about to prepare a "cut-down," when a vein in his right hand was finally discovered - an hour after the procedure began. The administrator of the Arkansas 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."

April 6, 1992...Arizona

March 10, 1992...Oklahoma
Lethal Injection
Parks had a violent reaction to the drugs. Two minutes after the drugs were administered, the muscles in his jaws, 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. Wayne Greene a reporter on the Tulsa World newspaper described Park's execution as looking "scary and ugly."

April 23, 1992...Texas
Lethal Injection
It took 47 minutes for the prison staff to find a suitable vein, and White eventually had to help them.

May 7, 1992...Texas
Lethal Injection
May had an unusually violent reaction to the lethal drugs. According to Robert Wernsman, a reporter for the Huntsville newspaper, The Item, 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 a coughing spasm, 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".


August 22, 1991...Virginia
After the first cycle of electricity was applied, and again four minutes later, prison physician David Barnes inspected Peterson's neck and checked him with a stethoscope, announcing each time "He has not expired." Seven and one-half minutes after the first attempt to kill the inmate, a second cycle of electricity was applied. Prison officials later announced that in the future they would routinely administer two cycles before checking for a heartbeat.


May 4, 1990...Florida
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. They attempted to support this theory by sticking a part of a synthetic sponge into a "common household toaster" and observing that it smoldered and caught fire.

September 12, 1990...Illinois
Lethal Injection
According to Dr. Edward A. Brunner over 5 minutes after the activation of Illinois's lethal injection machine, and more than two minutes after the plungers had injected the chemicals, Walkers' heart had not stopped, the Illinois Department of Corrections officials ordered the viewing blinds closed. The witnesses were not aware that Walker had not died, and were not told that there was a problem. Without removing Walker form the equipment, officials inspected the equipment and discovered a kink in the intravenous line. They straightened out the line, and a short time later Walker's heart stopped.

October 17, 1990...Virginia
When Evans was hit with the first burst of electricity, blood spewed from the right side of the mask on Evans's face, drenching Evans's shirt with blood and causing a sizzling sound as blood dripped from his lips. Evans continued to moan before a second jolt of electricity was applied. The autopsy concluded that Evans suffered a bloody nose after the voltage surge elevated his high blood pressure.


December 13, 1988...Texas
Leathal 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 into the execution, the catheter came out of Landry's vein, spraying the chemicals across the room towards witnesses. The execution team had to reinsert the catheter into the vein. The curtain was closed for 14 minutes so witnesses could not observe the intermission.


May 24, 1989...Texas
Lethal Injection
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. The Texas Attorney General admitted the inmate "seemed to have somewhat stronger reaction", adding "The drugs might have been administered in a heavier dose or more rapidly."

July 14, 1989...Alabama
It took two jolts of electricity, nine minutes apart, to complete the execution. After the first jolt failed to kill the prisoner (who was mildly retarded), the captain of the prison guard opened the door to the witness room and stated "I believe we've got the jacks on wrong." Because the cables had been connected improperly, it was impossible to dispense sufficient current to cause death. The cables were reconnected before a second jolt was administered. Death was pronounced 19 minutes after the first electric charge. At a post-execution news conference, Alabama Prison Commissioner Morris Thigpen said, "I regret very very much what happened. [The cause] was human error."


June 24, 1987...Texas
Leathal Injection
It took 35 minutes to insert the catheter into his vein.


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


March 13, 1985...Texas
Leathal Injection
Technicians had to probe both arms and legs with needles for 45 minutes before they found the vein.

October 16, 1985...Indiana
After the first administration of 2,300 volts, Vandiver was still breathing. The execution eventually took 17 minutes and five jolts of electricity. Vandiver's attorney, Herbert Shaps, witnessed the execution and observed smoke and the smell of burning. He called the execution "outrageous." The Department of Corrections admitted the execution "did not go according to plan."


December 12, 1984...Georgia
"The first charge of electricity ... failed to kill him, and he struggled to breathe for eight minutes before a second charge carried out his death sentence ..." After the first two minute power surge, 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. A Georgia prison official said, "Stephens was just not a conductor" of electricity.

March 14, 1984...Texas
Leathal Injection
Autrey took at least 10 minutes to die after the chemicals began to be injected. Throughout much of those ten minutes he was fully conscious and complained of pain. This was caused by the catheters clogging so delaying the transmission of the chemicals. It is also probable that the needle either did not enter the vein or passed through it. When the lethal chemicals enter the muscles instead they cause considerable pain.


April 22, 1983...Alabama
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.

September 2, 1983...Mississippi
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.


August 10, 1982...Virginia
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 smokey haze.