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Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber

When The Electric Chair Malfunctions

Executions in the United States have tended to take place according to five basic methods, in chronological order: hanging, firing squads, electrocution, lethal gas, and lethal injection.

The world's first electrocution, of William Kemmler at Sing Sing in 1890, was indeed a horrific affair, but the problem had to do with incompetence on the part of the executioner. The latter sent a 17-second jolt into Kemmler's body, but afterward Kemmler's heart began beating again. As the observers began to panic, the executioner turned on 1,300 volts of current, and sustained it for 70 seconds.

This time Kemmler was truly dead, and the electric chair became a part of the American punitive system. But Kemmler's was not the last case of a failed execution. Besides the instance of Resweber, there was Arthur Lee Grimes in Alabama in 1954, whose electrocution took seven full minutes before he expired; and Fred Van Wormer in 1903, who began to move when he was already on the autopsy table. Van Wormer died while guards were waiting for the executioner to return, but just to be on the safe side, they put his body back in the chair and administered another 1,700 volts.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1941 to 1953Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber - Petitioner's Claim, Decision, Significance, A Cruel And Unusual Punishment?, What Is The State's Responsibility?