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Old Sparky

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In 1923, the Florida Legislature designated electrocution as the state's official means of execution. Public hangings, which until that point were conducted by counties, were banned. (Lawmakers thought electrocution more humane, as incorrectly performed hangings often led to decapitation.) Prisoners were forced to build the state's first electric chair — "Old Sparky" — from oak.  

On Oct. 7, 1924, Frank Johnson, a convicted killer from Duval County, became the chair's first customer. Like nine of the first 10 men executed in Old Sparky, he was black. Unlike today, when inmates spend on average a dozen years on death row between sentencing and execution, Johnson only waited six months.  

In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited capital punishment. Four years later, however, it reversed itself, and on May 25, 1979, John Spenkelink became the first Floridian to be executed in 15 years. Since then, 64 men and two women have followed him into the death chamber. Of them, 22 have been black, one Hispanic and three classified as "other."  

On March 25, 1997, Old Sparky malfunctioned, causing flames to shoot out of inmate Pedro Medina's head. In 1998, DOC officers built a new chair. On July 8, 1999, Allen "Tiny" Davis suffered severe burns and a nosebleed during his execution, and photos of his bloody and scarred corpse surfaced on the Internet. After a special session in 2000, the Florida Legislature gave prisoners the option of lethal injection — an option all subsequent inmates have taken.

nk Johnson, a convicted killer from Duval County, became the chair's first customer. Like nine of the first 10 men executed in Old Sparky, he was black. Unlike today, when inmates spend on average a dozen years on death row between sentencing and execution, Johnson only waited six months.  

In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited capital punishment. Four years later, however, it reversed itself, and on May 25, 1979, John Spenkelink became the first Floridian to be executed in 15 years. Since then, 64 men and two women have followed him into the death chamber. Of them, 22 have been black, one Hispanic and three classified as "other."  

jbillman@orlandoweekly.com

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