The botched execution of Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett on Tuesday could cause more states that enforce the death penalty to reexamine the practice. Clayton’s slow, writhing death after a lethal injection is the latest in a very long history of poorly administered death sentences. In his new book, “Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America’s Death Penalty,” Amherst professor Austin Sarat tells the extended tale of inhumane lethal punishment. Over the past century, the preferrred means of state execution has included hanging, electrocution, lethal gas or injection — and with each method horrible errors have occurred. Sarat’s book contains a gruesome 31-page appendix that lists the 276 botched executions in the United States between 1890 and 2010, with graphic details of the suffering of both prisoners and witnesses. Here’s a selection.
June 30, 1900
The hanging of Benjamin Snell in the District nearly decapitated him, leaving him dangling by the muscles at the back of his neck.
Dec. 21, 1906
The rope broke during the hanging of Joda Hamilton in Missouri and he fell writhing in pain on the ground. He was brought back to gallows partially conscious and died on the second try.
Jan. 11, 1908
Peter Turner, an inmate in Tennesssee, slashed his wrists and neck the night before his execution, and when he was hanged his wounds opened, spurting blood from his neck.
Dec. 17, 1931
As 17-year-old J.W. Ballard was electrocuted in North Carolina, his left ear nearly burned off.
July 7, 1939
Bricey Hammonds was reported to have screamed for a full five minutes during his execution in a North Carolina gas chamber, which was a long time to remain conscious.
May 3, 1946
In Louisiana, Willie Francis was placed in the electric chair improperly set up by a drunk prison guard and inmate. The first shock of electricity was supposed to render him unconscious but Francis was heard screaming, “I’m not dying,” and “Take it off! Let me breathe.” After he survived a second shock, the execution was halted pending an appeal to the Supreme Court , which failed, and he was electrocuted about a year later.
Aug. 10, 1982
Frank J. Coppola was electrocuted in Virginia with two 55-second jolts, the second of which set the convict’s head and leg on fire and filled the chamber with smoke.
Dec. 13, 1988
Two minutes after Raymond Landry was given a lethal injection in Texas, the syringe popped out of his vein and sprayed deadly chemical toward the witnesses. A curtain was pulled, blocking the view, and the injection was reinserted. Landry was pronounced dead 40 minutes after it all began.
May 24, 1989
After his lethal injection, Texas inmate Stephen McCoy gasped and choked and arched his back so violently that a male witness fainted and knocked over another witness. The Texas attorney general admitted that the drug dose may have been too large.
March 10, 1992
In Oklahoma, Robyn LeRoy Parks was adminstered a lethal drug dose that caused the muscles in his jaw, neck and abdomen to go into spasms for 45 seconds. He gasped and gagged until he was pronounced dead after 11 minutes. A reporter for the Tulsa World wrote: “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.”
April 6, 1992
During his execution by lethal gas, Donald Eugene Harding thrashed and fought against the straps restraining him, dying after 10 1/2 minutes. One witness said she saw his body turn from red to purple.
March 25, 1997
When Pedro Medina was electrocuted in Florida, foot-high flames leapt from his headpiece, sending thick smoke throughout the chamber and gagging the two dozen witnesses. The power was cut off, but Medina’s chest continued to heave until he died.
April 20, 2010
Ohio convict Darryl Durr’s lawyers argued in a last-minute plea — to no avail — that their client was allergic to the anesthetic to be used. About two minutes into his execution by lethal injection, Durr raised up his head and shoulders, grimaced and fell back, and his throat went into spasms. Later, a controversy erupted over whether Durr was experiencing the throes of death or having an allergic reaction.