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Friday, July 9, 1999 Published at 05:36 GMT 06:36 UK

World: Americas

Row over new electric chair

Florida suspended the death penalty after "Old Sparky" caught fire

Friday's executions on Florida's death row have been postponed after a bloody debut for the state's new electric chair.

Witnesses said blood appeared to pour from the mouth and chest of inmate Allen Lee "Tiny" Davis, as he was hit with 2,300 volts in the early hours of the morning,

[ image: Allen Davis was executed on Thursday]
Allen Davis was executed on Thursday
He was the first person to die in Florida's new electric chair, built to replace "Old Sparky", which had been used since 1923 to execute more than 200 people.

By the time the 159kg man was pronounced dead, witnesses said blood covered the collar of his white shirt, and had left a stain on his chest about the size of a dinner plate, even oozing through the buckle holes of the leather chest strap holding him to the chair.

The authorities said the Davis had simply had a nosebleed and the blood was not related to the electrical charge coursing through his body.

"Nothing went wrong," said Cory Tilley, a spokesman for Florida's Governor Jeb Bush.

"The chair functioned as it was designed to function and we're comfortable that that worked."

But the problematic execution gave Florida's next condemned man - Thomas Provenzano - grounds for a successful legal challenge.

Old Sparky 'falling apart'

Correction officials had previously said "Old Sparky" was falling apart, and had raised concern after an execution in 1997 when flames shot from the condemned man's head.

[ image: No evidence of  blood is indicated on the official body diagram]
No evidence of blood is indicated on the official body diagram
Davis's lawyers had appealed unsuccessfully to the Supreme Court for a stay of execution, saying that during four executions last year the voltage in the old chair fell short of the amount needed to kill painlessly, especially for a man the size of Mr Davis.

Mr Davis was the 58th person to be executed this year in the United States. He was put to death for the murders of a woman and her two daughters 17 years ago.

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