For as long as there have been executions in the United States, there have been botched executions, says the New York Daily News. The paper reviews some of the notorious examples, including the first-ever electrocution in New York in 1890. The electric chair was supposed to be a more humane improvement on hanging, but it took two jolts to kill William Kemmler, who lingered for eight minutes before dying. A witness called the death “an awful spectacle, far worse than hanging.”
Lethal injection is under scrutiny after the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma on April 29. Other forms of execution have failed, as well. On May 16, 1879, three different executions were botched. In Utah, a firing squad failed to hit the heart of a condemned killer. He writhed for nearly half an hour before dying. In St. Louis, the rope broke in the hanging of another killer. The semi-conscious man was carried back atop the gallows, fitted with a new rope and dropped a second time. And the ropes were too long in a triple hanging hours later in North Carolina. The boots of two of the men scratched at the ground as they slowly choked.