8 Gruesome Botched Executions

1The decapitated woman who was the last person in Arizona to be executed by hanging

Eva Dugan gained notoriety by being the only woman executed and the last person in Arizona to be executed by hanging. She was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to death for the murder of an elderly chicken rancher, Andrew J. Mathis, and was ordered to be hung for the killing.

Eva claimed innocence until her time ran out, but accepted her fate nonetheless. She seemed composed as she mounted the steps towards the gallows, telling the guards, "Don't hold my arms so tight, the people will think I'm afraid." She swayed slightly as the noose was placed around her neck and tightened. As the trapdoor below her feet gave way, her head was decapitated from her body. It rolled to a corner of the platform by spectators' feet. The crowd that gathered gasped. The gas chamber replaced the gallows after that incident.

2The man whose execution was called off after officials failed to find a vein

Ohio killer Romell Broom survived a 2009 botched execution. He was sentenced to die for raping and killing 14-year-old Tryna Middleton after abducting her in Cleveland in 1984 as she walked home from a football game with two friends.

Then-Gov. Ted Strickland stopped the execution after officials tried for two hours to find a suitable vein. The inmate said he was stuck with needles at least 18 times, with pain so intense he cried and screamed. An hour into the execution, the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction recruited a part-time prison doctor with no experience or training with executions to try—again, unsuccessfully—to find a vein.

Broom has been back on death row since. He tried to appeal his sentence, but lost. Despite the ruling, a second execution is years away because of other scheduled executions and uncertainty over the state's supply of lethal injection drugs.

3The firing squad who missed the man they were executing

In 1879, the prolonged firing-squad execution of murderer Wallace Wilkerson in Utah made news. Wilkerson was an American stockman who was sentenced to death for the murder of William Baxter. He professed his innocence until his dying day, and chose his fate by firing squad over hanging or decapitation.

When the day came, Wilkerson was seated on a chair at a corner of the jail yard about 30 feet away from the shooters and declined to be blindfolded or restrained. He said, "I give you my word... I intend to die like a man, looking my executioners right in the eye." A white three-inch paper target was pinned on Wilkerson's chest over his heart. He yelled, "[A]im for my heart, Marshal!" He drew his shoulders up as he braced for the impact, and pulled the white target pinned to his shirt above his heart. The volley didn't kill him; it just knocked him out of his chair to the ground, screaming “Oh, my God! My God! They have missed!”

He bled to death in 27 minutes, prompting the tongue-in-cheek observation by the Ogden Junction newspaper that “the French guillotine never fails.”

4The teen death row inmate who was executed twice

Willie Francis was executed—twice—for the alleged murder of 53-year-old pharmacist Andrew Thomas in St. Martinville, Louisiana in 1944. Thomas was found shot five times at close range just outside of his home.

In May 3, 1946, the portable electric chair dubbed "Gruesome Gertie" was improperly readied for use, as the men in charge of setting it up, Captain Ephie Foster and an inmate who was also an electrician, Vincent Venezia, were drunk at the time. When the switch was flipped to kill Francis, he simply started jerking around violently in the chair. When it was clear he wasn't going to die, officials removed him and took him for examination by the witnessing coroner. It was at this point Captain Foster, yelled at him, “I missed you this time, but I'll get you next week if I have to use an iron bar!”

After the botched execution, a young lawyer, Bertrand DeBlanc, decided to take Francis' case, as he felt it was unjust. He and his team failed—Willie Francis was returned to the electric chair on May 9, 1947. A couple of days before the execution, he said he was going to meet the Lord with his "Sunday pants and Sunday heart."

5The death row inmate whose execution lasted over two hours

The execution of convicted Arizona murderer Joseph R. Wood III lasted for nearly two hours as witnesses said he gasped and snorted for much of that time before eventually dying.

Wood was killed at the Arizona State Prison Complex in an unusually prolonged process—he was declared fully sedated at 1:57 p.m. and pronounced dead at 3:49 p.m., almost two full hours after the medical team was first directed to administer the drugs. His attorneys filed a request to halt the lethal injection because he was still awake more than an hour after the process began; his lips started to move and he was “struggling to breathe” shortly after he was deemed sedated. State officials disputed these accounts, contending that Wood was never in pain and only snoring.

Wood was sentenced to death in 1991 for shooting and killing his ex-girlfriend Debra Dietz and her father, Eugene.

6The prisoner who was injected with a mummifying drug

In 2015, Oklahoma Corrections Department officials used the wrong drug to stop an inmate's heart during a botched execution. They were supposed to use potassium chloride to stop Charles Frederick Warner's heart. Instead, they pumped him with potassium acetate, a drug which is used in mixtures for tissue preservation, mummification and embalming, according to the Oklahoman's investigation into the inmate's autopsy report.

At the time of his execution on January 15, Warner, a convicted child rapist and murderer, took 18 minutes to die. “It feels like acid,” said Warner. “My body is on fire.” Nevertheless, a reporter present said it did not appear that he was in any pain, as he never raised his head off the gurney, and did not go into convulsions as previous inmates had.

7The inmate who died of a heart attack after his executioners blew a vein during his lethal injection

In 2014, an Oklahoma murderer on death row, Clayton Darrell Lockett, 38, had an IV inserted into his groin area before authorities began pumping a deadly three-drug cocktail through his body. The vein “blew,” causing Lockett to groan and writhe about 15 minutes after the execution began and forcing officials to halt the killing. He died of a massive heart attack 43 minutes after the execution started, forcing the state to postpone a second exceution planned for the same night.

President Obama asked for the attorney general to review the procedure, but the friends and family of Lockett's 19-year-old year victim, Stephanie Neiman, had no pity for how the remorseless killer died. “Who cares if he felt pain,” said friend April Sewell. “You know honestly, he's getting away a lot easier than how his victim did.”

8The prisoner who appeared to have been awake during the execution

In 2016, Ronald Bert Smith Jr. was sentenced to die by lethal injection for shooting convenience store clerk Casey Wilson in a 1994 robbery that prosecutors described as an execution-style murder. For 13 minutes after he was sedated, Smith was seen coughing, gasping and moving. He heaved his chest repeatedly during the 30-minute execution process and appeared to raise his arms slightly after two tests were administered to determine consciousness.

Smith's legal team says these movements show "he was not anesthetized at any point during the agonizingly long procedure," but Alabama's Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn disputes that Smith was in pain. An investigation continues.

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