A Tribute To "Old Sparky"

Sunday, 21 January 2007 By Ricardovitz
We miss you Old Sparky, smoldering scalps, captivating convulsions, and the smell of burning flesh... OLD Sparky was retired in 2000 after Florida legislators, against the sentiment of the citizens, voted to abandon the electric chair in favour of the lethal injection for condemned criminals. As a result of the crys of squeamish observers of several electrocutions, a select few were able to convince the legislators that what they witnessed was a series of horrific executions in which the chair malfunctioned. These observers convinced the legislators to execute death row inmates via lethal injections, so as not to repeat the alarming scenes of human flesh frying under the administration a mere 6 amps and 2,500 volts of electricity. Injectible poisons are seen as a more efficient means of euthenizing violent criminals. Old Sparky was the name for the electrocution device used in Florida, but it had close cousins in outher states with names like "Sizzlin' Sally", "Old Smokey","Yellow Mama", and "Gruesome Gertie".

So, what exactly happens when the condemned prisoner offered up a seat in Old Sparky? When they shoot the juice into the condemned, it goes through the skull electrodes and saline-soaked sponges then looks for the quickest route to the ground. Skin has a relatively high resistance, so the circuit goes through muscles and veins into the brain, eye sockets, sinuses, and eventually out the leg electrodes. Horror stories of shooting flames and smoke billows are not routine, but they did occasionally present quite a show for the spectators.

Executions are performed by "technicians" -- ordinary Joes who've answered a Help Wanted ad and received some training from the state. In electrocution, particularly, the tech has to be careful about the amount of saline in the electrode sponges, electrode placement, and the condition of the chair and wiring. Most problems are blamed o­n technician error.Scientists are still arguing about exactly how the electricity kills. Best guesses? Eventual paralysis of the brain's respiratory centers and heart fibrillation. But if the amperage is too high and the voltage too low, the flesh actually cooks from the heat generated in the circuit. Even well-calibrated chairs cause charring and swelling. Yes, electrocution gives off the smell of burning skin and hair. And the body has to cool down before it can be carried away. But the condemned is masked or hooded, not to hold the eyeballs in (at that point, nobody cares), but mainly so the witnesses will not have to see the facial muscle contortions and cooking flesh of the dying. Diapers are also strapped to the deceased, as voiding all excrement withing 3 seconds of throwing the switch is assured in all such executions.

Of the 38 states which still practise capital punishment o­nly three, Georgia, Alabama and Nebraska, still use the electric chair.The decision to switch to lethal injection was an example of the new compassionate conservatism sweeping American politics. Not o­nly is it considered to be a more humane method of euthenization of violent criminals, but it aleviates the commonly used defense by condemned priosoners by appealing to the courts that the use of the electric chair is somehow more cruel than hanging or other methods of execution. Inmates will still have the option of the electric chair if they want it, and in an attempt to accommodate their last wishes, Florida introduced a new electric chair last year after retiring a 77-year-old model which had killed 238 people since 1923. In its debut, however, the new chair misfired while killing Allen Lee "Tiny" Davis, a 20-stone convicted murderer. Blood spurted out of his chest and head as he went into some of the most violent convulsions ever witnessed. In 1990 and 1997, two electrocutions in Florida resulted in flames leaping from the bodies of the convicted men. Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, the brother of the Texas Governor and President George W Bush, is pressing for a swifter appeals process in capital punishment cases. He hopes to shorten the average length of time between sentencing and execution from 14 years to just under o­ne year. He says this would "reduce the immoral delays that cause so much trauma to victims and cost Florida's taxpayers millions of dollars". Florida is still o­nly third in the number of executions it performs behind Texas and Virginia, but with the murder rates o­n the rise in that state, who knows - it could be in the running for Number o­ne as soon as next year.

Official XenoxNews Correspondent: Ricardovitz
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