15 Gruesome Executions That Went Horribly, Horribly Wrong

Don’t get all excited and jump the gun by saying that this writer is against capital punishment. There isn’t anything politically motivated about this particular topic (even though he does have an opinion; but that’s beside the point).

But what exactly is the point? Great question. The point is to bask in the atrocities that are botched executions…without delving into whether or not these failures should lead to any change in legislation. The only “perspectives” that we will be sharing are expostulations that correlate more so to disgust and horror, similar to reactions like “AGH!” or “GROSS!”

As you’ll notice, most of the failed executions are more modern-based forms of capital punishment, most especially by lethal injection and gas. We do, however, cover some extra ground, such as examples of inmates going for a ride on the lightning, among others.

The further into the list, the more intense the suffering. Enjoy!

15 This Ain’t The Gallows...It’s A Guillotine!

We’d like to preface this story by saying that while this particular criminal’s execution was especially gruesome, the reason why it’s rated so poorly is because the criminal’s death was rather quick...and most likely, painless.

Now let’s get to it. Back in the late 1890's, Tom Ketchum, who later joined the Hole in the Wall gang, was a very real and ever present danger to innocent civilians living in Southwestern US. This was especially the case if these pour souls ever decided to travel by train—that method of vehicular transport was something Tom enjoyed heisting.

In fact, train robbery just so happened to be how Tom was caught, who regrettably decided to do it alone without his posse because the locomotive conductor who recognized Tom, shot him in the arm, forcing Tom to give himself up to the authorities.

During Tom’s trial in Clayton, New Mexico, the court was foolish enough to condemn him to hanging for “felonious assault upon a railway train,” their choice being unwise because Tom was to be their first hanged criminal...and consequently, their last. Due to many unforeseeable caveats (the rope was too long and Tom, who’d gained quite a bit of weight during his incarceration was much too heavy), things didn’t go as planned.

The trapdoor was dropped, Tom fell, the rope went taut...and Tom’s head flew right off. Gross. Some fun, twisted little facts. The people of Clayton thought it would be a good idea to make a postcard of the event by including his body in the photo. Plus, they also saw it prudent to sew his head back on to his decapitated body before interring him to Clayton Cemetery.

14 That Awkward Moment When You Have To Say “Goodbye” Again

It’s pretty nuts when you have to make your final statements twice because of technical difficulties. Well, that’s what Joseph Cannon had to do.

But before 38-year-old Cannon was in a position to say anything like that, he first had to face burglary charges 19 years earlier and then, to the woman who took him in after his conviction, shoot her not just once but seven times with a .22-caliber pistol.

After uttering what Cannon believed to be the last things he’d ever say before he’d die, the needle that was meant to deliver the toxins into his blood popped out of his arm due to the vein in his arm collapsing. Cannon, after seeing this, reportedly laid back, closed his eyes and said, “It’s come undone.”

Talk about unnerving! About 15 minutes later, Cannon, now weeping, said his second final statement, “I am sorry for what I did to your mom. Thank you for supporting me. I thank you for being kind to me when I was small. Thank you, God. All right.”

13 Death By Poking

If you’re someone who makes hyper-literal readings of crime and punishment, then according to the number of people serial killer Stephen Peter Morin murdered, Morin should’ve died four times because he was convicted of killing four women—Carrie Scott, Janna Bruce, Cheryl Daniel, and Sheila Whalen.

It should also be noted that he was also a suspect in over 30 unsolved violent crimes.

Well, maybe it will make you feel better that it took a lot of poking and prodding (literally) to get the needle into a good vein due to him being not just a “life abuser” but an abuser of drugs, the pursuit of which made many of his veins unsuitable for injection. As such, execution technicians had to search for roughly 45 minutes before they found one, an endeavor that involved probing both arms and one of his legs with needles.

12 Pop Goes The Needle

After hearing this story, we’re wondering if it can be defined as an “interactive” display.

The first two minutes of the execution of Raymond Landry, who was convicted for robbing and fatally shooting Kosmas Prittis in front of his wife, went smoothly enough.

Condemned to death by lethal injection, the needle went in (as expected) and the drugs started to flow. But then, something happened. The freakin’ syringe actually popped out of his vein due to how muscular Landry was and because he had been abusing drugs for years. The force of the syringe popping out from his arm was so great that it actually sprayed the deadly chemicals across the room…towards the witnesses!

As you can imagine, the curtain was pulled and it took 14 whole minutes for the executioners to reinsert the catheter into Landry’s vein. Landry was pronounced dead 40 minutes after he was strapped to the execution gurney.

11 Some Rope Technical Difficulties

Even though George Painter, in 1891, was set to hang after strangling and then beating his girlfriend’s head against a bed until she died, he didn’t make “the walk” to the gallows until three years later in 1894. At least, he got there.

Around 70 spectators had gathered to watch his execution, but none of them expected that they were about to witness a horrific spectacle. Everything was set up. Painter’s head was slung in the noose and then his body was dropped through the trap door. The rope went taut…and then snapped. The executioners ran over and realized that, like the rope, Painter’s neck had snapped. The problem was that Painter was still alive.

So guess what they needed to do next? Hang him again. As Painter’s executors prepared another noose, they set him in a “sitting” position like a doll (which is an unsettling image in and of itself) where spectators watched as Painter’s clothes became drenched in blood.

10 Headbanger’s Ball

When legislation is passed to change one method of execution for another due to the horrific outcomes that spawned from the “offending” punishment, you know something seriously went down the first time. In this case, the shift went from lethal gas to injection.

Maybe you’ll feel better knowing that the botched execution in Mississippi had been prepared for a “man” named Jimmy Lee Gray who’d been convicted for the murder of three-year-old Deressa Jean Scales in 1976.

Ironically, he committed the murder while on parole for another murder—the killing of a 16-year-old girl. Gray was sentenced to death by asphyxiation and soon found himself in the gas chamber where he would die.

The gas was released. But once he breathed in the toxins, Gray started to thrash his head around violently. This was a problem because his head was supposed to be restrained, which will become clear when we reveal the following: while thrashing around, Paul ended up hitting his head repeatedly against an iron bar behind him until he was unconscious.

The freaky thing that happened wasn’t what you might expect, however. It was the sound Gray made as he smacked his head against the pole again and again. These have been described by spectators as “moans.” And, of course, the Associated Press thought it would be a good idea to count the number of these noises he uttered before his death. That number was 11. Apparently, the executioner, Barry Bruce, had been drunk at the time.

9 Allergic Reaction To Cyanide Tablets

How badly do you think watching a botched execution would affect you? Would you suffer from insomnia? Would you experience “assorted illnesses” for several weeks? Would you be reduced to nothing more than a “walking vegetable” for days on end? Well, these things all happened to a few reporters after having witnessed the 1992 execution of Donald Eugene Harding in Arizona.

After Donald Eugene Harding had been convicted of murdering Robert Wise and Martin Conannon in 1980, he was originally set for a swift execution.

But there was nothing swift about it. Well, at least if you think 11 minutes of suffering isn’t quick. Rather than finding death after the cyanide tablets were dropped, Harding “found” a great deal of pain, one that caused him to succumb to sporadic jerks and spasms for over 6 minutes. One reporter said, “I heard him gasp and moan. I saw his body turn from red to purple.” That’s rough.

8 A New Chair To Fry In


Having to be the first person to “test” out a new electric chair can have its potential downsides. Sure, if you’re a narcissistic psycho and find it flattering that a new one had to be constructed to accommodate your size, it might be all flowers and gumdrops for you. Okay, maybe not those exact things. But you might be flattered.

Anyway, the state of Florida had to construct a new gurney for Allen Lee Davis because of his size—he was approximately 350 pounds—and their chair couldn’t hold him.

The “carnage” from his execution that came as a result of this untested chair was described with words like “dinner plate” to illustrate the general size of the amount of blood that spread out onto his chest. Other words like “oozing” were used to capture the sickening spectacle of the blood’s movement through the buckle holes of the restraining chest straps.

But David was a pretty horrific dude. He not only murdered a three-month pregnant woman named Nancy Weiler by hitting her 25-plus times in the face and head, but killed her two daughters, 9-year-old Kristina and 5-year-old Katherine.

7 Smells Like Bacon

Take the following insanity of what happened to Virginia police officer Frank Joseph Coppola, with a grain of salt because there were no media representatives present during the execution nor were any details ever released to the public by the Virginia Department of Corrections.

What you don’t have to take with any sort of grain is that Coppola was convicted for killing Muriel Hatchell who he bound with cords and whose head he slammed repeatedly on the floor until she finally died.

According to an attorney who was apparently present during the execution, Coppola ostensibly experienced not one, but two jolts of electricity that lasted for 55 seconds. While that’s a lot of frying, the attorney also included other details in his reports. He said that it sounded and smelled like burning, sizzling flesh. He also noted that smoke filled the chamber from floor to ceiling and that not only did Coppola’s head catch fire, but so did his leg! Whoa.

6 Insulator Man

There’s really no way to “spice up” this story without getting straight to the point. When referencing the 1984 execution of Alpha Otis Stephens in Georgia, a prison official said it failed because “Stephens was just not a conductor” of electricity.

Stephens was, however, a conductor of a horrible crime. In 1974, he murdered Roy Asbell after breaking his jaw and fracturing his skull in numerous places during a burglary gone wrong.

For that, Stephens was set to be electrocuted. But it took longer than expected. In fact, he was still alive after the first blast, albeit struggling to do so. He was having difficulty breathing. Before physicians could examine him, they had to wait about six minutes for Stephens’ body to cool down. Spectators of the execution say that Stephens was alive for eight minutes, during which he gasped for air 23 times.

5 Like Twisted Metal’s Sweet Tooth

Cop killers are scum. It’s much “scummier” when they commit the said crime with not just their wives but their children with them. Yup. That’s right. Jesse Joseph Tafero shot and killed Florida Highway Patrol officer Phillip Black and Canadian constable Donald Irwin while parked at a rest stop with his whole family in the car (including his 10-month and 9-year-old children) with him (along with an accomplice).

Tafero was soon sentenced to death by electric chair. One thing he wasn’t sentenced to, though, was death by electrocution…and burning.

Huh? How “burning” became a part of his execution is said to have been the cause of “inadvertent human error” whereby the inappropriate substitution of a synthetic sponge for a natural sponge was used, the theory of which was tested by using a synthetic sponge and an everyday toaster (spoiler: the toaster burned the sponge).

Similar to the toaster-dunked sponge, Tafero burst into flames. More specifically, fire erupted from his head, a height of which has been measured to be six freakin' inches! To put an end to the cop-killer’s suffering, executioners had to employ three jolts of power.

4 Oops. We Didn’t Knock Him Out First

Clayton D. Lockett (the one pictured on the left), who was convicted of murder, kidnapping, and other unspeaking acts in Oklahoma, didn’t die by lethal injection as was the original intent. He died of a heart attack which he sustained after undergoing an overly experimental procedure, one that Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallon pressured the Courts to do despite multiple warnings.

It was originally planned for Lockett to be administered with a drug known as midazolam to knock him out, followed by two additional injections (ones that would cause excoriating pain if the injected person was conscious) to finish him off.

Like some of the executioners on this list, Lockett’s phlebotomist had trouble finding a usable vein. This search took quite some time—about an hour’s worth of poking and prodding. But even after one was found—the spot being in the “groin area”—there were still more problems to come.

As you may recall, the success of this experiment was wholly contingent on the first drug knocking him out so he wouldn’t experience any pain from the following chemicals. However, the executioners and reporters soon found out after the “pain-inducing” drugs were administered that he hadn’t been knocked out. Instead of falling unconscious, Lockett breathed heavily, clenched his teeth, strained to lift his head off the pillow, and writhed on the gurney for about 43 minutes before he finally died of a heart attack.

3 A Lot Of Gasping

While it’s almost completely impossible to try and imagine what it’s like to die a slow and painful death, this might help you put it into perspective.

The execution of Joseph R. Wood, who was convicted for the murder and assault of his estranged girlfriend, Dbra Dietz, and her father, Eugene Dietz, was so freakin’ long that his attorneys were able to not only file an emergency appeal during the “suffering portion” of his punishment, but even make a phone call to a Supreme Court Justice to try and halt it.

Then again, you might be able to put it all into perspective when we tell you that it took one hour and 40 minutes. That’s about three full episodes and maybe the theme song and first bout of commercials during a fourth episode in a Big Bang Theory marathon.

During Wood’s overly long execution, a reporter for the Arizona Republic said that he was able to count Wood making a whopping 640 gasps before he eventually died.

2 Third Time’s The Charm

While John Evans was being executed, his lawyers pleaded the executioners to stop trying to amend the first two botched attempts to kill him...yes, two...but their pleas fell on deaf ears.

The first attempt was bad enough. Evans, who was supposed to die the first time by electrocution, was badly burned in two areas. The electrode, which was attached to Evans’ leg, had also burst from the strap and caught on fire. Smoke and sparks were reported to have also erupted around his left temple.

After yet another jolt of electricity, doctors were still able to detect a heartbeat. What’s worse, the shock had generated more smoke and burned more of Davis’ flesh. But as they say, third time’s the charm. After 14 minutes of charring and smoldering his body, Evans was finally dead.

Much like Evans’ execution, his criminal escapades before his conviction were also quite extensive. While on his 1976 parole, Evans (along with another fellow convict) took a two-month-long “criminal vacation” in seven states, where he committed 30-plus armed robberies, nine kidnappings, two extortion schemes, and robbed and killed a pawn shop owner named Edward Nassar.

1 Kinda Like The Crucifixion

For a judicial system that sentenced criminals to death by firing squad, you’d think that getting shot to death would be enough. You’d think. But not in Thailand up until 2002. Back when this form of execution was still acceptable, officials jazzed up the procedure a bit with some “Jesus Christ” flair by tying an inmate to a wooden cross with their hands pinned together in a position that emulated prayer with their back facing their executioner. The soon-to-die inmate and executioner would also be separated by a screen.

In this particular story, three members of a kidnap gang were set to die in this particular fashion. Two of the executions went according to plan, one of them didn’t. The one that didn’t was Ginggaew Lorsoungnern’s.

As to why the execution was such a grisly failure, people say it was because of her heart which was, unlike most people, on the right side. Another reason is said to have been because she wasn’t secured firmly enough to the cross.

Regardless, after she was tied (firmly or not firmly enough), Lorsoungnern was shot with 10 bullets. When they finished firing, she was, understandably, believed to be dead. Heck, when she was placed face down on the floor, still twitching and jerking, her chest “burst open.”

But after her executioners placed Lorsoungnern in the morgue and prepared the second prisoner, they heard a noise from the morgue—Lorsoungnern was trying to get out! Rather than shoot her right then and there, one official pushed on her back to increase the bleeding. Another tried to strangle her. But all of these attempts were stopped because they were said to be inhumane. While they were deciding what to do, Lorsoungnerd was still alive and gasping and the second prisoner was strapped onto the cross and then shot dead. The insane part is that they decided to try and execute her again by the same means, which meant they had to put her up onto the freakin’ cross again, bleeding and all, before shooting her 15 additional times.

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