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7 Most Famous Botched Executions in History

botched executions

Authorities try to make an official execution as quick and painless as possible – the punishment is the ending of someone’s life, not the method of the killing.

The US Constitution forbids ‘cruel and unusual punishment,’ which is why the Death Penalty is generally carried out by lethal injection in most states these days.

Even with experienced executioners, things can and do go wrong. A lethal injection using new drugs went wrong in 2014, people have taken a lot longer than normal to die in the gas chamber, and all sorts have gone wrong with hangings in years past.

Here are 7 of the most famous botched executions in history!

#1: Joseph Wood Execution (2014)

Source: AZ Central

In July 2014, double murderer Joseph Wood was executed in Arizona. European countries had banned the export of the drugs used to execute people in this way, so the State of Arizona tried a new cocktail of drugs.

Wood writhed and gasped for nearly 40 minutes because the new drug cocktail failed to work.

Up until 2014, state authorities used sodium thiopental that stopped the convict from breathing.

The only US manufacturer of the drug refused to sell it for execution purposes, so states turned to European manufacturers as their new supplier.

When they couldn’t get it from there, Arizona tried a combination of midazolam and hydromorphone, which led to his death.

#2: Barzan Ibrahim al Tikriti Execution (2007)

After Saddam Hussein was captured at the end of the 2nd Iraq War, he stood trial for his crimes and was sentenced to hanging.

Members of the audience videotaped the hanging and recorded the abuse people screamed at him as he awaited the rope.

When his half-brother Barzan Ibrahim was convicted for the murder of 148 Shiite Muslims, it was his turn to hang.

This went wrong when the executioner misjudged the length of the loop required, so his neck would break when he fell through the trapdoor.

However, instead of falling and jolting at the end of the rope, he fell so fast that the rope ripped his head clean off.

#3: Donald Eugene Harding Execution (1992)

Source: Death Penalty News

Donald Harding was the first person to be executed by the state of Arizona after an 18-year hiatus in the Death Penalty. In 1992, the double murderer was put to death in a gas chamber.

The convict is strapped into a chair with the gas chamber, and cyanide crystals are dropped into a mixture of sulphuric acid and distilled water.

In theory, the convict should die a quick death from asphyxiation.

This time, however, didn’t go as planned. Harding gasped and screamed for nearly 11 minutes, smashing his head against a steel pole while he died.

The prison authorities claimed that he was already brain dead by the time he smashed his head against the pole.

#4: Pedro Medina Execution (1997)

Execution witness Don Reid stands in the death chamber of the Texas State Penitentiary on July 31, 1972, where he officially watched 189 men die in the heavy oak electric chair. The Supreme Court struck down capital punishment on June 29 of that year.

The electric chair was invented with the belief that it would cause a humane, painless death. The truth, however, was far from that.

Even with a very powerful current passing through the body from the leg to the head, it often took a great deal of time to stop the heart from beating.

In 1997, murderer Pedro Medina was sent to the Electric Chair in Florida. Witnesses gasped when they witness actual flames fly from the top of Medina’s head and reported the smell of burning flesh as the current passed through his body.

When the flames came out of his head, the executioner stopped the current, but Medina was dead a minute or two later.

Investigators said that the sponge that was put on his head to conduct the current wasn’t wet enough at the time of the execution.

#5: Joachim von Ribbentrop Execution (1946)

Following the end of World War II, 10 high-ranking Nazi officials were sent to the gallows at the request of the Allies, who had tried them at the famous Nuremberg Trials.

The hangman got his calculations wrong with a number of Nazis. The Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop ended up spending 15 minutes at the end of the rope, slowly being strangled to death.

The head of the German Luftwaffe, Hermann Goering, who gave orders to bomb millions of innocent people in cities all over Europe during the war, managed to escape his own death by hanging.


Goering concealed a glass vial of cyanide, and the morning he was due to hang, he took it out and bit into it, killing himself before the hangman could do it.

#6: George Painter Execution (1891)

In 1891, George Painter was sentenced to death for murdering his girlfriend. He protested his innocence until the day he was due to die.

Painter was allowed to say his last words before being led onto the scaffold. The executioners tied his legs together and put a hood over his head before the noose was lowered around his neck.

When they pulled the lever to the trapdoor, his body fell straight through and snapped the rope that was meant to kill him.

This must have burst a blood vessel because as they were carrying him up to be hanged again, blood spurted everywhere.

Thankfully, the second hanging was successful.

#7: Lady Margaret Pole Execution (1541)

In 1541, Lady Margaret Pole was sentenced to be beheaded at the command of King Henry VIII in England. She committed no crime, but her son had refused to accept that the King’s marriage to Anne Boleyn was legal.

He had escaped to France, so the King’s men couldn’t get to him and got his Mum instead.

The executioner was inexperienced, and Lady Pole was in no mood to cooperate.

The story goes that she had to have her head forced onto the block and the ax man missed several times, slashing her shoulder and cutting off part of her head before finally taking her head off.