The general myth of capital punishment, one that lends it a certain degree of digestibility in the public conscience, is that it’s somehow different from killing a human being. In reality, though, on death row the rule of law overlaps with the horrific violence it’s designed to prevent. Because the public might have difficulty swallowing this awareness, the institution of “capital punishment” benefits from downplaying its function. It’s a lukewarm phrase that evokes a lukewarm idea, the horror in killing theoretically replaced with procedure, painlessness and brevity.
But when the procedure fails, like in Oklahoma last April, that perception collapses. Suddenly we can’t ignore the difficult truth that capital punishment is really a form of violence, and in terms of morality, the real issue lies in the fact that no matter how much we streamline the institution of execution, a margin of human error has the potential to botch things up with horrific consequences.
If anything, the frequency of executions gone awry in America proves that error is anything but an anomaly. Decide for yourself with this timeline of 10 truly disturbing cases of botched executions throughout America’s history of capital punishment. Be warned, graphic descriptions follow which may be upsetting for sensitive readers.
10. John Louis Evans (1983): A shocking 14-minutes
John Evans’ rap included armed robberies, kidnappings, extortion schemes and murder. In the wake of Alabama’s freshly reinstated death penalty, his verdict was the electric chair—or rather an electric chair built by an inmate in 1927. After the first 1,900 volts, sparks and flames caught the electrode on John Evans’ left leg. His body wrangled as grey smoke crawled out from the hood over his face and filled the room with the horrific smell of burnt flesh and clothing. Doctors still found a pulse. After a second surge the burning only grew worse. Evans’ heart only stopped beating after a third charge ended, fourteen minutes after receiving the first.