On this date in 1955, murderer Gerald Albert Gallego became the first client of Mississippi’s new gas chamber.
It was a botched job, though that didn’t stop Mississippi from retaining the gas chamber into the 1990s.
Gallego coughed, choked, and wheezed on a less than lethal cloud of cyanide poisoning. Finally, after some forty-five minutes while officials feverishly worked to correct the problem, the repairs were completed and Gallego quickly died. An additional step was then added to the required testing of the chamber prior to an execution: an animal, usually a rabbit, would be placed in a cage in the chamber chair and cyanide gas was released to make sure the mixture was sufficiently lethal.
Words fail me.
Supposedly the technology got better, but not in enough time for Jimmy Lee Gray in 1983, who spent eight minutes flailing and gasping before dying-from banging his head against the steel pole behind the chair. Or Donald Harding, who in 1992 took eleven minutes to die, gasping, shuddering and desperately making obscene gestures with both strapped-down hands.
Who else used the gas chamber? Nazi Germany, and North Korea.
The gas chamber was last used in the U.S. in 1999, and as of 2009 only five states (Arizona, California, Maryland, Missouri, Wyoming) still have it as a method, with lethal injection available as an alternative in all five states.