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Bungled Electrocution: Florida Spurns Own Natural Sponge

Florida lawmakers are hereby sentenced to be strapped into a chair in Spongeorama's Cinematic Theater to watch a film about natural sponges, until they get it right.

The state's 74-year old electric chair, Old Sparky, once again takes the rap for an improperly used sponge. On March 25, 1997, flames shot from convicted murderer Pedro Medina's mask as the switch was thrown. The execution chamber filled with smoke, and the tang of burnt flesh wafted through the witness room. Later inspection determined the fire was caused by the improper use of a dry artificial sponge placed between a wet sponge and a brass conductor on the prisoner's head.

The last time Old Sparky malfunctioned was in 1990, when six-inch flames burst around Jesse Tafero's head while three jolts of electricity were administered. He had been accidentally outfitted with a synthetic household sponge instead of a natural sponge, impeding the flow of current (Three years after his execution for killing a cop, a related case was overturned due to insufficient evidence -- it would probably have freed Tafero.).

A lovely natural sponge, suitable as gift or lethal current conductor.

The irony is that Florida is home to the Natural Sponge Capital of the USA -- Tarpon Springs. Each year thousands of visitors become experts on the many uses of sponges when they tour the Spongeorama free museum and view a vintage documentary on why natural sponges best their synthetic cousins. The film tastefully omits mention of utility in capital crime punishment, though a diorama might be in order, next to the Sponge Diver's Nightmare.

In early April 1997, a judge granted an indefinite stay of execution to convicted cop killer Leo Jones, who had been scheduled to die in Old Sparky. Blame it on the synthetic sponge -- not the electric chair. Since 1923, Old Sparky has delivered its 2,000-volt message of deterrence to more than 225 convicted killers.

The Continuing Sponge - Death Penalty Debate

January 15, 2000: A note of clarification from Fred Leuchter (who was the subject in the Errol Morris documentary, Mr. Death):

Gentlemen or Madames,
You should get your facts right. The reason Mr. Tafero's head caught on fire was not the sponge (I use artificial sponge all the time - it is better because it is uniform in thickness) but because the electrode separated and moved during the execution causing great electrical resistance and pain for Mr. Tafero. It is totally the fault of the fools who administrate the Florida DOC who refuse to listen and refuse to learn and do not care how many people they hurt.[...] I was the expert witness for the State of Florida for the Tefaro court case which resulted in a cessation of executions for 6 months and a stay of execution for Ms. Bonueano. Florida is totally irresponsible in the matter of executions. See the autopsy photos and reports on

Fred A. Leuchter,
Expert on Execution Technology

Please point out that "cop killer" Jesse Tafero, was all but officially proven innocent of the crime after his death. His "partner in crime", Sonia Jacobs (also sentenced to death by the state of Florida) was set free after the exonerating evidence became overwhelming for the state. [Lady Clairol39, 1/29/00]

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