They inflicted suffering on their victims, but the way these criminals met their end at the hands of the law was also pretty grim...
The death penalty strikes fear in the condemned not only for the fact they’re facing the end of life – human error, faults in equipment and even callous executioners can all make the already unfortunate process even less humane. Here are some of history’s most heinously botched executions…
1. Christopher Newton
When you’re permitted a toilet break in the middle of your execution by lethal injection due to the fact no-one can find a suitable vein, you know it’s not going well. Christopher Newton was on Death Row for savagely killing his cellmate – apparently because he kept giving up during games of chess. Former burglar Newton was clearly disturbed and actually wanted to die in jail – hence the murder, which led to him being put on Death Row. Eighteen-and-a-half stone Newton endured two hours of his executioners poking his arms, attempting to find a vein into which to inject the lethal cocktail. Once carried out, Newton took 16 minutes to die – more than twice the time it should usually take.
2. William Kemmler
Kemmler was the first person to be executed by the electric chair in 1890. What could go wrong..? Well, after flipping the switch and waiting until Kemmler had apparently died, doctors realised, thanks to a bleeding cut on his hand, that Kemmler was probably still alive. And he was. The warden ordered the current to be turned on again, and Kemmler began to groan as fluid ran from his mouth. The smell of burning hair and flesh, along with a puff of smoke, filled the room as Kemmler eventually passed away.
A newspaper report by the New York Herald described the scene: ‘The heaving of a chest which it had been promised would be stilled in an instant peace as soon as the circuit was completed, the foaming of the mouth, the bloody sweat, the writhing shoulders and all the other signs of life. Horrible as these were they were made infinitely more horrible by the premature removal of the electrodes and the subsequent replacing of them for not seconds but minutes, until the room was filled with the odour of burning flesh and strong men fainted and fell like logs upon the floor.’
3. Jimmy Lee Gray
Convicted of the murder and sodomy of a three-year-old girl – whom he killed by stamping on her neck – while on parole for the murder of his girlfriend, there’s conjecture that Gray’s execution by the gas chamber was deliberately botched. Unrestrained, Gray gagged for about eight minutes on the lethal gas before beginning to smash his head repeatedly against a steel pole behind his chair. Witnesses were quickly cleared from the scene – and the prison maintained that Gray was already brain-dead before he began slamming his skull into the bar. It was later reported that his executioner was drunk.
4. Ginggaew Lorsoungnern
A domestic worker for a Bangkok family, Lorsoungnern decided to kidnap the family’s six-year-old child and take him to a gang – who demanded a ransom. The parents were meant to throw the money out of a moving train close to a specific flag, but they missed the spot as it was dark. As a result, the boy was killed – and it was later found that he was buried while still alive.
Lorsoungnern was sentenced to death by firing squad. She’d be tied to a wooden cross, her hands bound at the front in a prayer position. On the day of execution, it seemed Lorsoungnern had not been secured tightly enough and was able to wriggle out of position, as the hail of 10 bullets shot into her chest failed to hit her heart and kill her instantly.
However, on inspection, executioners initially believed she was dead. But on arrival at the morgue, Lorsoungnern began to show signs of life – and even tried to sit up… Desperate, guards began to press down on her back to try to make her bleed to death. This didn’t work, and, gasping for life, she was taken back into the execution chamber and shot a further 15 times, after which she mercifully died.
5. Allen Lee Davis
Mass murderer Davis was executed by electrocution in 1999 – and it’s fair to say it didn’t go smoothly. Convicted of killing a pregnant woman and her daughters, Davis’ botched execution led to a petition by another Death Row inmate that the electric chair was a ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment. The Gainesville Sun reported the scene: ‘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.’ Davis was the first person to be executed in that chair – which was built specifically to take a person of his size, about 25 stone.
6. Charles Frederick Warner
A child rapist and murderer, Warner was given the wrong drug by lethal injection during his execution. Administered potassium acetate – which had never been used for that purpose – instead of potassium chloride, Warner claimed that his body was ‘on fire’ as the drug – used in mummification and embalming processes – was pumped into his veins. The lethal cocktail would normally consist of an anaesthetic followed by a paralytic and then potassium chloride, to cause cardiac arrest and death. Warner died 18 minutes after the injection, and it was said he neck twitched for seven minutes – although, due to the paralytic drug he received, he wouldn’t have been able to show any signs of distress if he was in pain.
7. Clayton Lockett
Described by the prison warden as a ‘bloody mess’, Lockett’s execution by lethal injection took an agonising 43 minutes. After Lockett groaned and writhed on the gurney, occasionally lifting his head and trying to talk (after being declared unconscious), staff eventually drew the blinds on the viewing area. At one point the doctor tried to inject the lethal drugs into Lockett’s groin, only to hit an artery and be sprayed with the condemned man’s blood. Lockett was pricked with the needle at least 16 times in order to get the IV in to administer the lethal injection. Clayton Lockett had been convicted of murder, rape, kidnapping and robbery.