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.
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.