The Horror of Florida's Electric Chair

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Warning:  Pictures Below are graphic, and may be upsetting.  Young children should not view.

    Florida's Supreme Court, following the bloody execution of Allen Lee Davis on July 8th, 1999, has once again, albeit by a narrow margin, ruled that the electric chair kills painlessly.  While they feel it esthetically offensive, they have yet to rule it cruel & unusual punishment. The following article summarizes the court findings:

Electric chair staying on job
State high court says it's not cruel 


TALLAHASSEE -- Florida's 75-year-old electric chair works properly and can stay in use, a sharply divided state Supreme Court said Friday in a ruling with emotional and graphic overtones.

By a 4-3 vote, justices decided electrocution is neither cruel nor unusual, rejecting appeals by Death Row inmate Thomas Provenzano, who awaits a date with the oak chair at Florida State Prison. But a dissenting justice, Leander Shaw, called the chair ``ghastly'' and ``a spectacle whose time has passed,'' and included grisly color photos of a bleeding inmate at Florida's last execution.

While the chair survived this latest legal onslaught, the tortured ruling is certain to generate more court battles, and is another signal to legislators to offer lethal injection as an alternative.

Even Chief Justice Major Harding, who wrote the lead opinion, urged lawmakers to give Death Row inmates the option of lethal injection so that inmates won't continue to appeal their sentences by challenging the chair's reliability, citing, as Provenzano did, malfunctions in three executions over the past decade.

``Each time an execution is carried out, the courts wait in dread anticipation of some `unforeseeable accident' that will set in motion a frenzy of inmate petitions and other filings,'' wrote Harding, who noted that, across the country, ``the modern trend is towards rejecting electrocution as a form of capital punishment.''

Nevertheless, Harding concluded that there was ``abundant evidence that execution by electrocution renders an inmate instantaneously unconscious, thereby making it impossible to feel pain.''

It was Harding who, as a circuit judge in 1983, sentenced Allen Lee Davis to the electric chair, and it was Davis' bloody July 8 execution that led to legal challenges by Provenzano that ended with Friday's decision.

Harding was joined in the majority by Charles Wells and the court's two newest members, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince. The dissenting justices were Shaw, Harry Lee Anstead and Barbara Pariente.


Shaw, the court's most vocal critic of electrocution, took the unusual step of adding three color pictures of a bloody, contorted Davis, sitting dead in the chair with a leather strap tightly across his face, to support his argument that the electric chair is a ``barbaric'' device.

``The color photos of Davis depict a man who, for all appearances, was brutally tortured to death by the citizens of Florida,'' Shaw wrote. ``No other country in the world uses electrocution as a means of execution,'' he added, underlining the words for emphasis.

The ruling marks the second time in two years that Florida's highest court has ruled in favor of the chair by a 4-3 vote.

Death Row attorney Martin McClain, who argued against the chair on Provenzano's behalf, said he was disappointed with the ruling but predicted the chair's days are numbered. He said an appeal of Friday's decision to the U.S. Supreme Court was possible.

``Harding is beseeching the Legislature to please change the method of execution,'' McClain said. ``Harding and Lewis are saying `Someone save us from this mess. We shouldn't be doing this anymore, but we're just not prepared to say the Constitution requires a change.'''


Defenders of the electric chair applauded the decision.

Gov. Jeb Bush, who this week signed two more death warrants, called the decision ``a resounding victory for all Floridians'' and said in a statement: ``I am pleased that the court affirmed what the vast majority of Floridians strongly believe: that the chair is neither cruel nor unusual as a method of execution.''

House Speaker John Thrasher, R-Orange Park, who last month toured the death chamber, said he was ``gratified'' by the decision. Thrasher added he would consult lawmakers on the lethal injection issue but that the chair is ``the appropriate method of capital punishment'' in Florida.

Sen. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, who has filed legislation for the 2000 session to alter the form of execution to lethal injection, said the electric chair would continue to be the source of long appeals and sentencing delays. Friday's decision, Klein said, supports his view that ``we are not using the most effective means of punishment.''

Only three other states -- Alabama, Georgia and Nebraska -- still use electrocution as the only form of capital punishment.

Herald Staff Writer Lesley Clark contributed to this report

The Patrick Crusade has been furnished with the following pictures of Allen Lee Davis taken shortly after the execution.  Please proceed with caution, as some of these pictures are extremely graphic, showing the suffering Davis endured in the Chair.  No matter how you feel about the death penalty, no one should have to suffer a death like this when there are less painful methods available.  If you live in Florida, please petition your legislator to abolish the chair!

Blood flows from Davis's nose. Mask is still in place.

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Mask is partially removed, and the agony frozen on Davis's face becomes apparent.

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Mask Completely removed. 

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Is this the American Justice System we were taught to honor as Children?

Is this the legacy we want to pass on to our descendants?

Wake up, Floridians!

Jeb Bush

Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Architect of Horror


Thomas Provenzano

The next potential victim of The Sunshine State!

More Information on Florida's Chair:




Court uphelds use of electric chair

St. Petersburg Times September 25th 1999

The story of Old Sparky

St. Petersburg Times September 25th 1999

Electric chair staying on job

Miami Herald September 25th 1999

Florida high Court Again OKs Electric Chair

Excite News September 24th 1999


5 High court delays Provenzano execution to allow testimony

The Tampa Tribune September 24th 1999

Condemned killer waits on appeal

Tampa Bay Online Septemeber 21th 1999

Trasher: Keep electric chair

Miami Herald August 31th 1999

Insanity hearing gives killer a chance

St. Petersburg Times August 27th 1999

Editorial : Old Sparky goes first,

then the death penalty

Palm Beach Post August 26th 1999

Again, justices turn eyes to chair

St. Petersburg Times August 25th 1999

Lawyers attempt to save man from chair

Miami Herald July 18th 1999

Electric chair has a troubled past

Miami Herald July 11th 1999

Bloody death in the chair

Miami Herald July 9 th 1999

Bush orders 2 executed

Miami Herald June 10th 1999

Sunday, November 21, 1999 2:45 PM
N.Y. Times Ad on Moratorium

For Immediate Release:
November 21, 1999


Moratorium Campaign Continues Monday

Electric Chair Ad Puts Politicians on Hot Seat

Hyattsville, MD-- Pictured in black and white, wide leather straps hang off the chair that has come to symbolize the death penalty. Across the photo that fills more than half the page are the words, "To most politicians this is an easy chair." It is the latest installment in a series of ads, which urges a moratorium on executions and is set to run in Monday's New York Times main section across the country.

"To most politicians, the death penalty is the easy answer to crime," the ad reads. "It's also their easy answer to something more important to them then crime---their own election." Exceptions to that rule include the 19 members of the US Congress, who joined over 4,000 ordinary citizens, 100 murder victims' family members, and a former Mississippi prison warden, to call for a moratorium by signing the initial ad which appeared in The New York Times last week.

The ad campaign, an initiative of Equal Justice/USA, a project of the Quixote Center, demonstrates the growing sentiment among supporters and opponents of the death penalty for a moratorium on executions.

Recent headlines in the nation's leading newspapers have corroborated the concerns of moratorium endorsers. Last Thursday, The New York Times published "Florida's Messy Executions Put the Electric Chair on Trial." The Quixote Center ad speaks to the issue: "The Supreme Court is now considering whether the electric chair is cruel and unusual punishment. Even more important to the debate on the death penalty is whether or not the death penalty is applied fairly."

A Chicago Tribune investigation, "Death Row Justice Derailed", revealed that capital punishment in Illinois is a "system so riddled with faulty evidence, unscrupulous trial tactics and legal incompetence that justice has been forsaken." The five-part series examined all 285 cases on death row in that state.

The following individuals who signed the ad are available interviews:

--Sonia "Sunny" Jacobs, an innocent woman who spent 17 years in prison including five on Death Row, her common-law husband and codefendant Jesse Tafaeo, though falsely accused, was executed in Florida in the infamous "old sparky" electric chair.

--Don Cabana, Warden of Mississippi State Penitentiary (former) and author of the memoir "Death at Midnight: Confessions of an Executioner."

--Bud Welch, father of Julie Welch, an Oklahoma bombing victim.

--Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. has pledged to introduce legislation calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. In Jackson's home state of Illinois, 12 people have been released from death row after investigations proved their innocence.
# # #

Call for a Moratorium on Executions

A Story from Death Row
Anthony Porter was to be executed by the State of Illinois on September 23, 1998. Just 48 hours before his scheduled killing, the Illinois Supreme Court granted a stay to consider last-minute questions about whether Porter, whose IQ is 51, should be legally barred from execution because he could not understand what was happening to him. The delay gave four Northwestern University journalism students time to conduct an independent investigation of the case. No physical evidence tied Porter to the 1982 double murder in Chicago. His conviction was based solely on eyewitness testimony. After visiting the crime scene, the students found that this testimony did not add up. With the aid of a private investigator, they began questioning witnesses. Thanks to the students' efforts, another man confessed to the murders for which Porter was almost executed. Porter was freed in February 1999 after 17 years on death row.

We, the undersigned, are 4,100+ organizations and US citizens. Some of us support the death penalty and some oppose it. Yet we all join together today to call for an immediate moratorium on executions because of the way capital punishment is applied in our country. We support a moratorium because of the increasing risk of executing innocent people like Anthony Porter. Nationwide, 82 innocent death row prisoners have been released since 1973 - six in 1999 alone. Some were saved only days before their scheduled execution. The average time these prisoners spent on death row was seven years.

1 Efforts by courts and legislatures to speed up the time between conviction and execution mean that other prisoners likely have been and will be executed before their innocence is discovered. Porter's story is a painful reminder that all too often, a prisoner's innocence is discovered only because of the extraordinary and fortuitous efforts of people outside the system. We support a moratorium because - as the American Bar Association (ABA) has concluded "fundamental due process is now systemically lacking in capital cases."

2 Porter's case is symptomatic of this crisis in death penalty jurisprudence. Like 90 percent of those facing capital charges, Porter was too poor to hire his own attorney. Most indigent defendants suffer from grossly inadequate legal representation.

3 Furthermore, the US General Accounting Office has found "a pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in charging, sentencing and imposition of the death penalty."

4 Many states continue to execute people who are mentally retarded or who were under age 18 at the time of their crimes or both - even in the face of nearly unanimous international condemnation. Unfairness and mistakes in the application of the death penalty are undermining public confidence in the criminal justice system and fueling the call for a moratorium. More than 625 groups and tens of thousands of people across the US are now calling for an immediate halt to executions. Among them is the ABA, which led the way in early 1997. Opinion polls show that many people in the US embrace alternatives to a death sentence if other means are taken to ensure that the guilty do not further endanger the innocent.

5 We a urge President Clinton, all members of the US Congress, our respective governors and state legislators and members of our state and federal judiciary to enact an immediate moratorium on executions.

1 Innocence and the Death Penalty: The Increasing Danger of Executing
the Innocent, Death Penalty Information Center, 1320 18th St. NW, 5th
Floor, Washington, DC 20036, 202-293-6970, July 1997. See also

2 Report accompanying ABA Death Penalty Moratorium Resolution (107)
adopted by the ABA House of Delegates in February 1997.

3 Same as note 2. To date, no state has met all of the American Bar
Association (ABA) policies for administration of the death penalty,
including standards for representation for indigent defendants.

4 Death Penalty Sentencing: Research Indicates a Pattern of Racial
Disparities, General Accounting Office report, February 1990.

5 See Death Penalty Information Center web site at

Quixote Center
P.O. Box 5206, Hyattsville, MD 20782
301-699-0042 / [FAX] 301-864-2182 / WWW.QUIXOTE.ORG / EJUSA@QUIXOTE.ORG
Partial List Signers of Statement in New York Times on November 16 &19 Urging a Moratorium on Executions

Governor Toney Anaya - NM (former)
Shawn Amburst - Northwestern journalism student who helped free Anthony Porter
Rabbi Leonard I. Beerman
Mayor Jerry Brown - Oakland CA
Don Cabana - Warden Mississippi State Penitentiary (former)
Congressman William Bill Clay - MO
John J. Curtin, Jr. - President American Bar Association (former)
Noam Chomsky - MIT Professor of Linguistics
Congressman John Conyers Jr. - MI
Governor Mario Cuomo - NY (former)
Congressman William Delahunt - MA
Alan Dershowitz - Harvard Professor of Law
Mayor David Dinkins - NY (former)
Congressman Bob Eckhardt - TX (former)
Senator Russell Feingold - WI
Justice John Fitzgerald - Supreme Court (MI) (Ret.)
Richard Gere - actor
Danny Glover - actor
Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
Ron Hampton - President National Black Police Association (former)
Senator Mark Hatfield - OR (former)
Bruce Houdek - Asst. US Attorney/MO (former)
Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen
Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. - IL
Rev. Jesse Jackson - Rainbow/Push Coalition
Joan F. Kessler - US Attorney/WI (former)
Bobby Muller - President Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation
Russ Millin - US Attorney/MO (former)
Very Reverend James Parks Morton - The Interfaith Center of NY
Sister Helen Prejean - Dead Man Walking
Congressman Charles Rangel - NY
Tim Robbins - actor/director
Susan Sarandon - actress
Barry Scheck - Attorney - Innocence Project
Arthur Schlesinger Jr. - historian
Mayor Kurt Schmoke - Baltimore
Congresswoman Maxine Waters - CA
Cornel West - Harvard professor
International Section
Rubin "Hurricane" Carter - Exec. Director, Assn. in Defense of the
Wrongly Accused - Canada
His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Archbishop Desmond Tutu - South Africa
Murder Victim's Family Members
Pat Bane - A woman whose uncle was killed during a mugging - VA
Peter and Linda Biehl - parents of Amy, murdered in South Africa - CA
SueZann Bosler - whose minister father was killed by an intruder in his
parsonage - FL
Pat Clark - a woman whose uncle and cousin were murdered - PA
Ann Coleman - whose daughter was shot to death in her car - DE
Renny Cushing - Executive Director, Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation - MA
Maria Hines - whose brother, a state trooper, was shot and killed in the line of duty - VA
Sam R. Sheppard - son of Dr. Sam Sheppard (The Fugitive) - CA
Ricardo Villalobos - whose grandfather was murdered - MD
Bud Welch - father of Oklahoma City bombing victim Julie Welch - OK
Wrongfully Convicted Former Death Row Prisoners
Randall Adams - (Thin Blue Line) Convicted 1977; Released 1989 - TX
Perry Cobb - Convicted 1979; Released 1987 - IL
Rolando Cruz - Convicted 1985; Released 1998 - IL
Gary Gauger - Convicted 1993; Released 1996 - IL
Sonia "Sunny" Jacobs - Convicted 1981;Released 1992 - FL
Delbert Tibbs - Convicted 1987; Released 1992 - FL
Dennis Williams - Convicted 1979; Released 1996 - IL

The Green Mile

Coming December 17th 1999.  You must see this film if you care about this issue.

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