12 June 1987 – Jimmy L Glass

US Justice William Brennan famously branded electrocution “nothing less than the contemporary technological equivalent of burning people at the stake’. He was attempting to get Jimmy L Glass off the hook after the convict had been sentenced to death via the electric chair.

Glass had had a prior record. Indeed he’d escaped from jail and was on the run with another inmate when the duo killed a middle-aged couple in their own home. The second trial took this into consideration and the sentence was death.

Heated debate

However, Glass fought long and hard, asserting that Old Sparky was ‘cruel and unusual’ and so contravened a couple of American’s constitutional Amendments1.

And there were some pretty hard hitters in Glass’ camp. But weirdly they weren’t contesting the sentence, just the penalty – they were merely after changing the method by which it would be…errr…executed.

They maintained that electrocution was inhumane and should be stopped in favour of quick and painless dispatches.


Needless to say, they lost the case and Glass was plonked on Old Sparky aged roughly 25. But the fact that he was prepared to take Louisiana to task for the principle set a precedent. Louisiana changed its method to lethal injection just a few years later.

1 ‘Cruel and unusual punishments’ came under the Eighth Amendment, but Glass’ legal team also fought under the 14th Amendment.

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