Some criminals go to Old Sparky screaming. Some go crying. Some say a prayer. But it’s the rare tough guy who takes a jolt from the electric chair and survives.
The Reel Story: Taking film noir to a new visual level, “Sin City” chronicles the thriving underworld of a seedy cesspool of sin called Basin City, home to a slew of disturbing — and disturbed — characters. A gang of vigilante prostitutes; a cop with a mean streak a mile wide; a holy man with a secret; a handsome convict; a mentally damaged killer with a heart of gold; the creepiest kickboxing cannibal ever and innumerable other
denizens inhabit graphic novelist and movie co-director Frank Miller’s world.
With this cast of creeps, it’s not surprising that one of them ends up on death row. Sent to the chair for crimes of passion, the criminal (no spoilers now) takes not one, but two life-ending jolts from the electric chair, even going so far as to ask for the second zap, prompting us to wonder: How many shocks from Old Sparky does it take to do the job?
The Real Story: It can take more than one.
Normally, electrocution in the chair consists of applying a two- to five-minute cycle of about 2,000 volts of electricity. High-voltage electrocution usually causes heart failure and burns, and can stop a person’s breathing.
However, in some cases — either due to human error, faulty machinery or the resilience of the prisoner — additional cycles must be applied. The first person to be sentenced to die in the electric chair, axe murderer William Kemmler, was electrocuted twice in 1890 when the voltage in the first cycle wasn’t high enough.
Alas, practice hasn’t exactly made perfect since Kemmler’s time, and double doses aren’t exactly rare. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, in 1991 a Virginia man, Derick Lynn Peterson, was given a second cycle seven a half minutes after the first, when the prison physician noted, after checking the man with his stethoscope, “He has not expired.” Since then, many prisons routinely administer two cycles before bothering to check for a heartbeat.
Electrocutions have often been botched due to human error. In a 1989 electrocution in Alabama, the cables were improperly connected to Horace Franklin Dunkins Jr., and insufficient voltage was dispensed on the first pass (prompting a guard to announce, “I believe we’ve got the jacks on wrong”). In what might have been the most gruesome case of repeat jolts, an Indiana prisoner, William E. Vandiver, was given five cycles of electricity over the course of 17 minutes on October 16, 1985, before finally being pronounced dead.
Not surprisingly though, while second and third charges are often required, there’s not a single recorded instance of a prisoner actually asking for another jolt: more proof, if any were needed, that Basin City is a world — a brutal, brutal world — all its own.
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