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Monday, March 23, 1998 Published at 14:57 GMT

World: Americas

'Old Sparky' executes serial killer
image: [ Florida suspended capital punishment in March 1997 after 'Old Sparky' caught fire ]
Florida suspended capital punishment in March 1997 after 'Old Sparky' caught fire

Serial killer Gerald Stano who confessed to murdering 41 women has been executed in Florida after the Supreme Court rejected his last appeal.

His execution is the first of three scheduled to take place in the electric chair, nicknamed 'Old Sparky' over the next week.

Florida suspended capital punishment in March 1997 when the execution of a Cuban immigrant, Pedro Medina, went wrong and led to debate over its cruelty.

Flames appeared to shoot out of Medina's head and witnesses said he survived at least a minute.

The American state considered switching the way it puts criminals to death but the legislature voted to stick with the 75-year-old apparatus.

Killer's total could be nearer 80

[ image: The cause of the fire was a short circuit]
The cause of the fire was a short circuit
Stano preyed on women in the states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Florida.

Police say he may have carried out twice as many murders as the 41 he confessed to after being arrested.

Despite four previous death sentences, Stano was put to death for a 1974 killing of a teenager in Port Orange, Florida.

Human error caused fire

The second convict to be executed now that Florida's electric chair has gone back to work is Lee Jones, 47, who shot a police officer in 1981.

It was an attorney representing Jones who attempted to have 'Old Sparky' condemned after the fire.

He succeeded in having the chair taken out of action for tests but these showed it was in functional order.

The cause of the the fire was a poorly applied sponge, which transmits the electric charge from an electrode attached to a skull cap into the prisoner's shaved head.

After entering the body, the current at 2,000 volts leaves through another electrode attached to the right leg.

The ill-fitting sponge on Medina's head caused a short circuit, which in turn triggered the fire.

The state prison authorities insist 'Old Sparky' kills instantly. Florida's High Court ruled that, even if it did not, it worked well enough.

No public support for 'born-again' woman

The third prisoner to be executed this week is Judi Buenoano, 54, who was found guilty of murdering her husband in 1985.

A number of similarities exist with her case and that of Texan Karla Faye Tucker, who was put to death in February.

Like Tucker, she says she has found God whilst on death row and teaches Bible studies to fellow inmates.

But no national movement of support has grown up for Buenoano. Police believe Buenoano also killed her son and another boyfriend.

She is appealing against her sentence, as is Jones. But observers say they have only a slight chance of a reprieve.

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