The details of every botched execution are terrible. From the death-gasps of the condemned to the panicked reactions of the corrections personnel, the calamitous moment where a crucial error has occurred reveals not simply a procedural mistake. Instead, what is displayed is also a symbolic revealing of the death penalty’s inherent flaws. Simply put, taking a life – even under the most controlled of circumstances – is fraught with the possibility of horrific consequences.
Considering such a possibility each and every time an execution is performed, it is astounding that states such as Tennessee have adopted methods like electrocution as viable alternatives in light of the recent lethal injection protocol challenges. On May 6, Tennessee’s State Supreme Court heard a case brought by death row inmates challenging the state’s use of the electric chair should pentobarbital not be available for lethal injections. All of these procedures were ultimately set in motion by the legislature’s decision in April 2014 to bring back this shelved method of execution.
This turn of events should call to memory a horror story from 25 years ago on May 4, 1990, when Florida inmate Jesse Tafero’s electrocution did not follow protocol: Tafero’s head caught on fire at the first jolt of electricity due to an improper sponge that was used as a replacement. Tafero died in agony, essentially burned alive. The same fate awaited Pedro Medina in 1997, seven years later, as his electrocution went awry as well.
These bizarre anniversaries should serve as a reminder that society has tried everything to prop up the death penalty system. It would seem that we do not learn from our mistakes, turning time and again to methods of executions that will fail to do what legislators promise it does for society. Until such time that we learn these lessons, the gruesome show will go on, and we will remember more regretful anniversaries with every passing year that we maintain the death penalty.
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