25 March 1997 – Pedro Medina

Pedro Medina was a little hot-headed after his combustible date with Old Sparky on this day in 1997.

The Cuban’s head is said to have caught alight after he was plonked on Florida’s electric chair for murder.


Medina was one of around 125,000 Cubans who came to the United States during the 1980 Mariel boatlift – Castro’s henchmen organised a mass deportation of thousands of Cubans, some criminals and others mentally ill. Medina fell into the latter group and despite only being a teenager he’d already spent a large portion of his life going in and out of institutions.


Ironically it was his mental state that ensured he was put away. There was certainly no actual hard and fast evidence – no fingerprints at the scene of the crime where Dorothy James was killed. There was not even any blood in his alleged getaway car – nor any blood on the supposed murder weapon. Nonetheless his outbursts, confused utterings and the fact that he took to the stand at all, against his counsel’s wishes all ensured he was found guilty.


Pope John Paul II spoke out in his defence. Even the daughter of the victim, Lindi James, refused to believe Medina was guilty: ‘I have never believed Pedro killed my mother. I do not want my mother’s memory to be used as an excuse for executing Pedro Medina.’

So amid rumblings that Medina may even have been blameless made the circumstances of his death all the more poignant. That the chair should choose to flare up on any day is awful, but when the man may even have been innocent the malfunction becomes heart-rending.

Sparks fly

Old Sparky certainly lived up to its name on Medina’s day in Florida. As the first frisson of current kicked in, flames were seen emanating from the helmet within seconds. Some witnesses purport that he was trying to breathe or had gone into spasm, while others tried to describe the ensuing smell of the smoke. Only the superintendent ridiculously blagged that it was the eau de burning sponge.

At Medina’s autopsy, details of his death were recorded: ‘the head had a “burn ring” on the crown of the head that was common in executions by judicial electrocution. Within the “burn ring” there was a third degree burn on the crown of the head, with deposits of charred material.’

All the evidence pointed to a painful death, with Medina’s last words still ringing in the air, ‘I’m still innocent’.

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