Death row killer had six-inch flames shoot out of head after wrong sponge used

A death row killer had six-inch flames shoot out of his head after the wrong sponge was used during a botched execution.

Jesse Tafero was executed in Florida for the murders of Highway Patrol officer Philip Black and his friend Donald Irwin in 1976.

The double murderer's excruciating end has become a cause célèbre for opponents of the death penalty, and is even said to have been the inspiration for an infamous passage of Stephen King's novel The Green Mile which was later immortalised on the big screen.

Tafero was sent to the electric chair, nicknamed 'Old Sparky', on May 4, 1990. But the execution went far from swimmingly.

A member of the execution team had used a synthetic sponge rather than a sea sponge, with the latter necessary to provide greater conductivity and lead to a quicker death.

In total three jolts of electricity were required to execute Tafero, then 43, a process that took seven minutes with witnesses reporting the murderer had six-inch flames shooting out of his head.

Prisoners in Florida State Prison in Raiford claimed the electric chair had been tampered with to make Tafero's execution seem more like torture.

An inmate close to the murderer said he could smell the burning flesh of his friend for days after the shocking incident.

It has been rumoured that Tafero's botched execution served as the inspiration for Stephen King when he wrote about the execution of Eduard Delacroix in The Green Mile.

In the book, later made into a Hollywood blockbuster starring Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan, sadistic prison guard Percy Wetmore deliberately avoids soaking the sponge used to conduct electricity on Delacroix's head, causing him a gruesome and agonising death.

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Florida Highway Patrol officer Philip Black, and Donald Irwin, a visiting Canadian constable, were killed during a traffic stop.

Tafero's wife Sonia 'Sunny' Jacobs was also sentenced to death, although her sentence was later commuted to life in prison.

Accomplice Walter Rhodes was sentenced to three life sentences, but he was released in 1994 after he was awarded parole for good behaviour.

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In similar scenes, another death row killer's head burst into flames during another gruesome botched execution.

Pedro Medina, then 39, had murdered his neighbour Dorothy James, 52, in Orlando, Florida, on April 4, 1982.

He was also due to be electrocuted in Old Sparky on March 25, 1997.

But the chair malfunctioned, causing foot-long flames to shoot out of his head, and burst from behind the mask over his face, filling the death chamber with smoke.

Executions in Florida were delayed by almost a year due to the incident.

Medina, who just prior to his arrival in the US had been released from a Cuban mental hospital, was sentenced to death for murdering former teacher, who was found gagged, stabbed multiple times with a knife, and left to die in her Orlando home.

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