The Execution Photos

By the late, J. J. Maloney
July 1998

"Davis has been convicted for murdering a woman and her two daughters. A grisly crime, to be sure. But on July 8, 1999, the people of Florida sank to the exact level of Allan Lee Davis and no higher."

The execution of Allen Lee Davis in the Florida electric chair on July 8, 1999, has set a shock of wave that ripples around the world. When the Florida Supreme Court ruled, yet again, that execution is not unconstitutional, a dissenting justice attached three photographs of the execution to his dissent. Since then, nearly a million people have visited, or tried to visit, the Florida Supreme Court website. The photographs have drawn attention from all over the world, with many foreign visitors expressing disgust, while many Floridians rallied in support of "Old Sparky" as the Florida electric chair is fondly known. One Florida woman, in email to the court, described the photographs as "wonderful."

I think each person can view the photographs, and read the following length excerpt from the dissent of justice Shaw and come to their own conclusion as to the propriety of capital punishment, and electrocution in particular. As Justice Shaw points out, the United States is the only country in the world that uses electrocution as a means of execution, and even in the United States only four states still use this method of execution.

Justice Shaw describes in detail three recent executions, including that of Davis, wherein the execution went awry. He points out that Davis not only died from electrocution, but from being smothered by the large leather strap that held his head to the electric chair. Witnesses described Davis as either screaming or moaning prior to the current being turned on.

Davis has been convicted for murdering a woman and her two daughters. A grisly crime, to be sure, but on July 8, 1999, the people of Florida sank to the exact level of Allan Lee Davis and no higher.

Please read the following lengthy excerpt from Justice Shaw's dissenting opinion.

The administrator of electrocution in Florida demonstrates the cruelty inherent in this method of execution. Not only was every execution in Florida accompanied by the inevitable convulsing and burning that characterizes electrocution, but further, three executions in particular were marred by extraordinary violence and mutilation. In two of these executions, smoke and flames spurted from the headpiece and burned the heads and faces inmates. In the third execution, the inmate bled from the nostrils and was at least partially asphyxiated by the restraining devices: and he too was burned.

Davis's execution

The execution of Allan Lee Davis on July 8, 1999, differed from prior executions in that here Department of Corrections ("DOC") officials took post-execution color photos of Davis before he was removed from the electric chair. (several of the photos are appended to this dissenting opinion). These photos, when combined with eye witness accounts, provide a vivid picture of violence scene. According to witnesses' accounts, when Davis was being strapped into the chair, guards placed a solid leather mouth-strap across his mouth and nose area. This mouth-strap is wide approximately five inches from top to bottom-and it covered the entire lower portion of Davis's face from the bottom of his chin immediately below his nose. The strap was fastened so tightly against his face and was so wide that it pushed his nose severely upward, blocking his nostrils at least partially. A heavy fabric face-mask was placed on top of this apparatus, further occluding his airway. And then, as explained below, blood began flowing from his nose prior to electrocution. This too obstructed his nostrils.

The trial court below explained that the pathologist who conducted a post-execution autopsy on Davis concluded that he had been at least partially asphyxiated prior to electrocution:

Robert Krischner, M.D., forensic pathologist from Illinois testified as an expert in the area of forensic pathology. Kirschner testified that he performed an autopsy on the body of Allen Lee davis. He testified that during Davis's autopsy, he was unable to identify the precise source of the nose bleed that Davis suffered, but that it was coming from the septal area of the left nostril. Kirschner testified that the placement of the mouth strap across Davis's mouth inhibited Davis's breathing and caused him to be come at least partially asphyxiated before the application of electrical current to him. Kirschner testified that he is of the opinion that Davis's death was caused by electrocution and association of partial asphyxiation which occurred before the electrocution. "Aubrey D. Thornton, Assistant Wardenat Florida State Prison, testified that he was one of the individuals responsible for strapping Allen Lee Davis into the electric chair...Thornton also testified that Davis's face begun to turned red after the mouth strap was applied to him." (Emphasis added) After Davis' airflow had been blocked by the mouth-strap, the face-mask which were described variously as muffled screams, moans, or yells, as if he were attempting to get the guards' attention.

The trial court gave the following description:" John W. Moser. Capital Collateral Regional Counsel for the middle region, testified that in his capacity as Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, he witnessed the execution of Allen Lee Davis. Moser testified that between the time Davis was secured in the electric-chair and the time the electrical current was applied to Davis, he heard what sounded like two screams from Davis."

"Mark Lazarus, Victim Assistance Administrator for the Florida Department of Corrections, testified that he observed the execution of Allen Lee Davis. Lazarus testified that after he head piece was placed on Davis' head, he heard two one-syllable sounds coming from Davis and that the sounds sounded like Davis was trying to "make some noise" or "yell out".

"Thomas Varnes, Warden at Wakulla Correctional Institution, testified that he witnessed the execution of Allen Lee Davis. Varnes testified that after the mouth strap and chin strap of the head piece were tightened and the face mask was lowered, he heard Davis moan like he was trying to say something."

"James Crosby, Warden of Florida State Prison testified that after the mouth piece was placed on Davis, and just before the execution, he heard two muffled sounds from Davis, which sounded like Davis was trying to say something." (Emphasis added). Prior to and during the electrocution, blood flowed freely from Davis' nose, ran over the mouth strap, an spilled onto his chest, forming a pool the size of a dinner plate on his white shirt. Again, in the words of the trial court below: "Sheila McAllister, Correctional Probation Officer at Wakulla Correctional Institution, testified that she witnessed the execution of Allen Lee Davis...McAllister also testified that while the current was on she observed blood on Davis' chest, and she observed something dripping from behind Davis' mask."

"Michael R. Collins, employed with Florida State Prison as a nurse, testified that he attended the execution of Allen Lee Davis. Collins further testified that after the electrical current was stopped and after Mr. Mathews, the Florida State Prison physician's assistant was examining Davis, he observed blood on Davis' shirt in his chest area and on his upper right side, by his collar. Collins stated that the blood was dripping from under the mask."

"William Muse, Lieutenant with the Florida Department of Corrections, assigned to Florida State Prison, testified that he witnessed the execution of Allen Lee Davis....Muse testified that after the cycle of current had been terminated, he observed blood on Davis' shirt, blood on the strap, and blood coming from Davis' nostril(S)."
(Emphasis added) In light of the placement of the mouth-strap, the positioning of the face-mask, and the flow of the blood from his nostrils, it is reasonable to conclude-as did Dr. Kirschenr-that Davis was being smothered before he was electrocuted. And finally, as with Tafero and Medina, Davis' body was mutilated by burns on the head, face and leg, as noted in the trial court's order:

"The deposition of William Hamilton, M. D., Medical Examiner for the Eighth Judicial Circuit, was read into the record due to Hamilton's unavailability...Hamilton testified that Davis had burns on his scalp and forehead, on his super pubic and right upper medial thigh region, and behind the right knee." The color photos taken by DOC show a ghastly post-execution scene: Davis is wearing shirt and dark pants and is restrained in the wooden chair by thick leather straps placed across his arms, legs, torso, and mouth; the electrical head-piece is attached to the top of his head with a leather strap that runs under his chin; a sponge placed under the head-piece obscures the entire top portion of his head down tot his eyebrows; because of the width of the mouth-strap, only a small portion of Davis' face is visible above the mouth-strap and below the sponge, and that portion is bright purple and scrunched tightly upwards; his eyes are clenched shut and his nose is pushed so severely upward that it is barely visible above the mouth-strap; although the exterior openings of Davis's nostrils are partially visible, it appears as though the interior openings may be covered by the mouth-strap; a stream of blood pours from his nostrils, flows over the wide leather mouth-strap, runs down his neck and chest, and forms a bright red pool (approximately eight by twelve inches) on his white shirt. The scene is unquestionable violent."

Published in Roving Insight Magazine


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