4 May 1990 – Jesse Tafero

With six-inch flames – it’s easy to see how Old Sparky earned its nickname.

But it was the fact that cop-killing Jesse Tafero’s head caught light and started emitting flames that furnished people with enough ammunition to brand the electric chair inhumane.

Cops and robber

Serial offender Tafero was finally incarcerated on death row after he killed two policemen. He’d already chalked up a number of crimes from rape and robbery to prostitution and drugs charges, so when he eventually shot two cops, no-one was going to look too kindly on him.

His accomplices in the crime – his girlfriend Sonia Jacobs and his mate, Walter Rhodes, who managed to stitch the couple up, were sentenced but were later released. In a twist, Jacobs’ lie-detector test was used in a later appeal, which saw her life sentence overturned.

Man-made mistake

Tafero on the other got to sit in the hot seat, and boy did he get hot under the collar. The Florida chair is said to have malfunctioned and as the switch was flicked so flames shot out from his head.

Six-and-half agonising minutes of burning flesh later and Tafero was finally pronounced dead.

Turns out the sponge used for executions had worn out. So someone went out to buy another. But electric chairs don’t come with manuals, do they? So he bought a synthetic sponge. How was he to know it had to be a real sponge, otherwise the electricity wouldn’t conduct so effectively.

The state of Florida learned the hard way as they saw their criminal literally light up. Apparently he was moving between bouts of electricity and one of his fingers was rubbed raw, from where he was ‘ clawing the chair’.

One witness stated, ‘the entire top of Mr. Tafero’s head is covered with wounds. There is one dominant charred area and a myriad of smaller gouged, raw areas to the upper right side and lower right of the large burned area.

‘The dominant charred area is on the top left side of the head. It is larger than my hand.’

Following Tafero’s death, Rhodes went as far as to confess he had shot the two policemen, but then retracted his new confession. However this episode casts doubt on whether Tafero was in fact guilty of the murders or not.

Also on this day

4 May 1999 – Manny Babbitt
4 May 1826 – Mark Jefferies and Matthew Brady

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25 Responses to “4 May 1990 – Jesse Tafero”

  1. michelle Says:

    You should by now know that Jessie Tafero was an innocent man and did not shoot any police officers. In fact it was Rhodes that shot the police officers and confessed to the crime later whilst in Prison. I think that it is unfair that you label Jessie Tafero as a cop killer.

    • penni Says:

      The photo on this website needs to be corrected PLEASE!!!!! This is not a photo of jesse tafero!!! THE PHOTO ON THIS WEBSITE IS NOT JESSE TAFERO

      • Old Sparky Says:

        Ok, thanks for letting us know. Photo removed why we investigate.

  2. Thanks for your comment, but, as far as we are aware, the indictment still stands. There has been no official move to overturn Tafero’s sentence posthumously.

    While we accept Walter Rhodes recanted his testimony and admitted killing the two policemen, he promptly withdrew the new confession. So the original testimony still stands, despite the fact that Rhodes was the only suspect who had traces of gunpowder on his hands.

    Unless you are aware of official moves to prove Tafero’s innocence, we can only go on the facts as they have been presented in a court of law.

    • michael erfurth Says:

      First of all I am shocked, that an execution can go wrong that bad, when he was not guilty in addition this would top the pain he had to suffer. But it is too late anyways ( meaning for all innocent people that have been executed)

  3. Anna Says:

    I agree , I think its discusting that Jesse Tafero is still being labelled as a ” cop killer ” on this web site. His wife Sonia Jacobs was proven innocent because of evidence that was supressed from the state were finally acknowledged and because of this evidence it was proven that Jesse was innocent and that infact Walter Rhodes was the killer of the two policemen. Also, why would someone admit to doing a crime as serious as murder then decide ” oops no actually i did not do it ” , i think its far more likely that Walter Rhode’s concious caught up to him and he admitted he did it and then his legal aids talked him out of it in the end.

    If you are only going by evidence that is presented in the court of law, understand this , they are unwillinging to present further evidence as reputations of judges, lawyers and state officiers will be in direct threat , as they know they killed an innocent man and do not want to allow for any information that would jeopradise there careers and reputations to become known for this very reason.

    Jesse Tafero is completely innocent and your site here does not demonstrate this, i think that acknowledging his innocence and getting rid of information that says ” when he eventually killed two cops” and ” serial killer Tafero” will ensure that no one will come across this website and consider that Jesse Tafero is quilty !!! after all , he did get executed for something he did not do , now give him some respect !!!!

  4. Lisa Says:

    I totally agree with the above comment and the first. Jesse was not a copy killer and should not be labelled that, sure he had done crimes in the past but he served hes time for that. I dont believe he should ever have got the death penalty especially as it was only Rhodes who tested positive for gun powder residue on hes hands. Jesse may not have been perfect but dies a horrific death for a crime he did not commit, and with the sponge they would have know which one to purchase they just wanted the “cop killer” to suffer

  5. I think that the treatment both Jesse and sunny received was beyond despicable. A fabrication fuelled by A prosecutor’s anger and feelings of inadequacy. I come to this conclusion because of the evidence that was available to authorities and instead of persuing new leads they ignored vital information that could have seen them free. But now it’s too late for them. I want you people to think about that everytime you label jesse a Cop Killer. Yes it may not be official that he is innocent but everybody knows that. You are disrepecting his memory by saying otherwise. SHAME ON YOU, RIP JESSE

  6. Oh yeah…boohoohoo..that poor robbing rapist.

  7. Elizabeth D. Says:

    Thank you Lee, for finally injecting some brains into this discussion! I lived in South Florida in 1976 and remember this horrible tragedy quite well and the outrage it sparked in Broward.
    To say that a demon like Jesse Tafero (a convicted robber and rapist who had a gun in his possession

  8. Elizabeth D. Says:

    “…..who had a gun in his possession) is totally innocent is an insult to one’s intelligence. Sonia Jacobs Linder is another piece of garbage: what kind of woman brings two small kids into the company of two animals like Tafero and Rhodes and forces them to participate in an event that has likely scarred them for life? Also, some witnesses testified that they saw shots coming from the back seat, where she was. I SINCERELY doubt that “Sonia and Jesse” were innocent bystanders. If they were, they could have overpowered Rhodes. Instead, all three jumped over the bodies and stole the cop’s car, THEN kidnapped an old man and stole HIS car before being caught. Come on, folks. Walter Rhodes did not do all this by himself! As far as I’m concerned, Jesse Tafero got EXACTLY what he deserved, flaming head and all.

  9. Leonie Says:

    I am deeply shocked by the statement left by Elizabeth D. Firstly, it was proven in a court of law that both Sunny Jacobs and Jesse Tafero were innocent and that Rhodes shot the two cops and then blamed Sunny and Jesse in order to get out of the death sentence himself. If you have ever met sunny jacobs you would instantly know this is the truth, there is no doubt in my mind of her innocence and obviously there isn’t in a court of law either. To get off death row is no easy feat.

    With regards to your last line, I find it appauling that anyone could feel that way about another human being. For you to feel that you can judge whether someones life should be taken away or not is completely ridiculous.

  10. Elizabeth D, it is you who is “garbage.” You are a strident, ignorant, judgmental and misinformed. People like you are responsible for just as much misery in this world as violent criminals because you have the same type of hatred that most of them do, you just express it in a way that you think is righteous. You have no idea what factors in Sunny’s life led her into a situation where she brought her two small children “into the company of animals” as you call them. And they could have overpowered Rhodes? Rhodes, who had a gun? Yeah, that’s easy. And of course, being the expert on everything, you would know because, after all, you were in the car, right? You are also the type who probably thinks that people choose to become victims, and that people bring disease on by themselves. We all must take responsibility for our actions, but we as a free society must learn to look at all sides of an issue, especially when there are mitigating circumstances. More importantly, we as human beings must someday learn the meaning of the word “empathy.” I’m trying to have some for you right now, as I’m writing this. But you probably wouldn’t care. You’re probably elsewhere offering your latest expert opinions, laughing about people’s heads going up in flames, or masturbating to episodes of Nancy Grace.

  11. Lisa Connelly Says:

    LET THIS BE AN EXAMPLE TO EVERYONE. KILLING A MAN TO TEACH US KILLING INNOCENT PEOPLE IS WRONG ISN’T ALWAYS THE ANSWER. TURNS OUT HE WAS NEVER A KILLER. WHO PAYS NOW? THE MIND WHO MADE THE LAW, OR THE MAN WHO TWISTED THE LAW TO THRILL KILL USING THE LAW AS HIS MURDER WEAPON. HERE, THE BROWARD COUNTY STATE ATTORNEY IS NOTHING MORE THAN A KILLER HIMSELF. WHO IS TO TEACH HIM KILLING INNOCENT PEOPLE IS WRONG. SAD FACT IS THAT I DO BELIEVE HE IS STILL A PROSECUTOR TODAY.

  12. Damien Echols Says:

    The author of this article ought to be strapped into Old Sparky with a synthetic sponge in the head piece instead of the organic sea sponge that Old Sparky needs to work correctly! Internet “journalism” is a freaking joke, and the fact that the hateful pre-adolescent who wrote this article was allowed to publish it proves that!

    Real publishers pay staff members to check facts. Obviously this web site has little or no regard for facts.

  13. NONE OF THIS IS TRUE. Jesse never deserved to die and never shot those policeman. Sunny and him spent years of their life apart in prison and didn’t even see their own children grow up. It’s actually disgusting reading this…

  14. Elizabeth D…have you actually read any of the police documents or seen Sunnys interviews?! well I have an I can give you the FACT that it was later PROVEN that neither of them shot the policeman. Jessie was a past criminal but going to death row isn’t something anyone should go through when they were INNOCENT. The fact you can even insult Sunny in this situation is disgusting.

  15. MY NAME IS PENNI AND I WAS JESSE TAFEROS GIRLFRIEND FROM 1980 TO 1990. I SPENT MANY HOURS WITH JESSE IN THE VISITING AREA ON FLORIDAS DEATH ROW. JESSE WAS A VERY SPIRITUAL MAN AND I ALSO PRAY FOR THE TWO POLICE OFFICERS THAT WERE KILLED. I MISS JESSE. GOD IS THE JUDGE. THE PHOTO ON THIS WEBSITE IS NOT JESSE TAFERO. IT NEEDS TO BE CORRECTED.

  16. God Says:

    No one deserves to die like that….oh on second thought Jesse may.

    • penni Says:

      Hey freak you are not god

    • penni Says:

      My name is penni and i was jesse tafero’s girlfriend. I spent hours visiting with jesse on florida’s death row. sonja “sunny” jacobs was and is not jesse tafero’s widow or wife as she claims. Miss jacobs was and is not legally married to jesse tafero. Walter rhodes is still alive and serving life in prison. Walter rhodes is a disgusting scumbag. Walter rhodes is a scumbag lowlife pig. I also pray for the trooper and canadian constable that were killed by walter rhodes.

      • penni Says:

        Jesse tafero was very much in love with me and i spent hours visiting with jesse tafero on floridas death row. Jesse tafero wanted to marry me and i was his girlfriend. As i have stated before i always pray for the trooper and canadian constable that were killed by scumbag walter rhodes.

      • penni Says:

        My name is penni and i was jesse tafero’s girlfriend. There is a photo of a old man on this website and other websites stating that this is jesse tafero. The old man in the photo IS NOT jesse tafero. Who is this old man?? Why is this old man’s photo on every jesse tafero website?? Can someone identify who the old man in the photo is?? Sonja “sunny” jacobs was jesse tafero’s girlfriend and she was not legally married to jesse tafero as she claims. Jesse tafero was a very spiritual man and i spent many hours with jesse on florida’s death row……God knows what happened on february 20, 1976

  17. I will never understand why this pig walter rhodes who shot and killed a florida state trooper and a canadian constable received “special treatment” during his arrest in 1976. Walter rhodes should have been executed years ago and the most horrible thing is that walter rhodes was actually released from prison years ago and then he was recaptured. Why is this nutcase psycho killer rhodes receiving all this “special treatment”? This is very very unfair and walter rhodes should be on death row. This scumbag has a life sentence when he should be on death row so the state of florida can fry his ass. I know walter rhodes will definately go to hell.

  18. What the hell is going on here??? Who the hell is this ugly old man on every jesse tafero website??? This ugly disgusting old man is not and I repeat jesse tafero. It is illegal for this old man to be on every jesse tafero website. I was jesse tafero’s girlfriend in the 1980’s and I spent many hours with jesse in the visiting area on Florida’s death row.

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