Executions · Florida

Man dies with “a crown of foot-high flames” in botched execution

March 25, 1997
Pedro Medina is executed by electrocution for the 1982 robbery and death of his elderly neighbor

Medina’s neighbor, Dorothy James, had been stabbed, gagged, and left to die. Several days after the murder, Medina was found asleep in his James’ car as he was parked on the side of the interstate. Although he confessed to being in James’ apartment the night of her murder, he claimed to have entered the home after she was already dead. Medina was tried and convicted in an uneventful trial.

What makes Medina’s case memorable was his execution which was botched spectacularly. As stated on the Death Penalty Information Center’s botched executions page reports: “A crown of foot-high flames shot from the headpiece during the execution, filling the execution chamber with a stench of thick smoke and gagging the two dozen official witnesses. An official then threw a switch to manually cut off the power and prematurely end the two-minute cycle of 2,000 volts. Medina’s chest continued to heave until the flames stopped and death came. After the execution, prison officials blamed the fire on a corroded copper screen in the headpiece of the electric chair, but two experts hired by the governor later concluded that the fire was caused by the improper application of a sponge (designed to conduct electricity) to Medina’s head.”

Governor Lawton Chiles was told by attending doctors that the burns were similar to any other execution by electrocution “and, in [the doctor’s] opinion, felt no pain.” Attorney General Bob Butterworth used the execution as a deterrent stating “People who wish to commit murder, they better not do it in the state of Florida because we may have a problem with our electric chair.”

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