Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Electric Chair Debate Started before Jones

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Electric Chair Debate Started before Jones

Article excerpt

Neurologists, pathologists, electrical engineers and other

second-guessers as to how it feels to be killed in the Florida

electric chair have been appearing before Circuit Judge A.C.

Soud to help the majesty of the law determine if it is cruel and

unusual punishment to electrocute Leo Jones, convicted of

shooting a Jacksonville policeman to death in the back of the

head from ambush 16 years ago.

The proceedings were occasioned by flame extruding from the

face mask of Pedro Medina, the slayer of an elementary school

teacher, last March. Lawyers for the state and for Death Row

inmates are arguing essentially whether execution hurts, the

philosophical assumption being that it is bad if it does.

It is not a new argument.

Florida's electric chair was less than 7 years old when Jim

Williams walked away under the aegis of cruel and unusual

punishment. Williams, Putnam County wife-killer, may have been

the only man to have escaped Old Sparky after actually warming

it with his physical presence.

It was not a malfunction of the electric chair that spared Jim

Williams. It was a malfunction of the man who was supposed to

push the button, whoever that was.

Let us bear in mind that the Florida of 1930 was not marked by

the political correctness of today. In a half-dozen years, 26

men had sat in the Florida chair and the apparatus had worked

just fine, given the purpose for which it was intended. Williams

was the 27th and when he was strapped in, he and all others

concerned expected Old Sparky to proceed as usual.

Two Putnam County deputy sheriffs had gone to Raiford for the

execution. Prison Superintendent J.S. Blitch signaled all was

ready and told the deputies to pull the switch. For reasons lost

to history, the deputies refused.

The reasons apparently were not benign. The first deputy said

it was the second deputy's job, and the second deputy said it

was the first deputy's job. Blitch started arguing with both the

deputies, stating that he, Blitch, was the guy who was supposed

to determine which deputy was supposed to do it and the deputies

told Blitch whatever it was that Putnam County deputies told

people with whom they disagreed to do in 1930. …

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