Death Row killer’s head burst into flames in gruesome electric chair execution

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A gruesome botched execution saw a Death Row killer's head burst into flames.

Pedro Medina, a Cuban refugee, then 39, murdered his neighbour Dorothy James, 52, in Orlando, Florida, on April 4, 1982.

He was due to be electrocuted to death by the infamous electric chair, Old Sparky, in Florida State Prison on March 25, 1997 – nearly 15 years after the crime.

But the chair malfunctioned, causing foot-long flames to shoot out of his head, and burst from behind the mask over his face, filling the death chamber with smoke.

Executions in Florida were delayed by almost a whole year due to this incident.

Medina, who just prior to his arrival in the US had been released from a Cuban mental hospital, was sentenced to death for murdering former teacher, who was found gagged, stabbed multiple times with a knife, and left to die in her Orlando home.

He was found on April 8, 1982, asleep in her car, which he had stolen, at a rest stop near Lake City, and was initially arrested for theft.

Detective Daniel Nazerchuk indicted him of the murder on a day later.

Medina was evaluated by two psychiatrists upon his request – but they confirmed that he was competent enough to stand trial before a jury between March 15-18, 1983.

He was convicted of first degree murder and auto theft, serving five years in prison for the theft and was recommended the death penalty for the murder.

Within seconds of the electric current being applied, smoke appeared from under the right side of the head piece, though the current was not shut off until the middle of its third cycle. The flames lasted between four to five seconds.

The body was left with a third degree burn ring on the crown of the head, a common occurrence by judicial electrocutions. His eyebrows, eyelashes, and facial hair did not burn away, but his face and head were charred and scalded by the steam.

Patricia McCusker, Superintendent of Work Camp at Florida State Prison, testified in court that she witnessed this malfunction.

She said: “Medina’s left hand tightened as the current was applied, and there was a burning smell, and smoke and flames came from his head.

“I saw movements in his chest, but the contractions did not imply he was breathing.”

Other witnesses to his death described the odour like a burnt sponge, while others had described it as the smell of burning flesh.

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His chest muscles contracted with lurching, spasmodic movements as if he were shuddering, two or three times within four minutes, though the witnesses to his death did not believe that he was breathing at this moment.

Medina was pronounced dead at 7:10am. In his last words, he claimed, "I am still innocent."

This gory incident caught the attention of objectors to the death penalty, who questioned whether Medina really was mentally competent to stand trial in the first place.

Lorry Post, an anti-death penalty activist from New Jersey, US, said: “The horror becomes more of a horror.

"Even before his execution, people, including Pope John Paul II, spoke out against the killing of Medina, a mentally ill Cuban refugee.”

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The victim’s daughter, Lindi James, even stated that despite her belief that Medina was innocent, her mother would have opposed the execution regardless.

Attorney General Bob Butterworth insisted that: "Old Sparky does its job fine.

“[Although] People who wish to commit murder, better not do it in the state of Florida because we may have a problem with our electric chair."

  • Crime
  • Death Row

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