September 2, 1983
Jimmy Lee Gray is executed for the rape and murder of a 3-year-old girl
Gray had recently been paroled following an Arizona murder conviction of his 16-year-old girlfriend Elda L. Prince when he killed Deressa Jean Seales on June 25, 1976. He kidnapped the toddler, sodomized her, attempted to shove her panties down her throat with a stick, and pushed her head into a creek to drown her. As he was leaving, he heard her gurgling in the water and returned to stomp the back of her neck, breaking it.
Gray was the first person executed in Mississippi since 1976 when the death penalty was reinstated. Candle-light vigils were held in his honor, songs sung defending him, and pastors spoke on his behalf asking for clemency on the grounds that he had become a Christian in prison. None of these pleas were successful.
On September 2, Gray was executed in the gas chamber. The chamber had a vertical bar positioned behind the head of the condemned. His executioner, Barry Bruce, did not strap Gray’s head down, nor was a cushion placed behind Gray’s head. As the lethal gas entered Gray’s lungs, he began to thrash about, striking his head against the metal pole until he was unconscious. The witness room was cleared before Gray was dead due to the graphic nature of the execution. It was later revealed Bruce had been drunk during the execution.