In the long list of people who have been executed by the electric chair, Willie Francis (1929-1947) was the first one to go through the process twice.
Francis was 15 years old when pharmacist Andrew Thomas was murdered in St. Martinville, Louisiana. The crime went unsolved for nine months. In August 1945, police found Francis near an unrelated crime scene. When detained and questioned, police found Thomas’ wallet in Francis’ pocket. He later confessed to the murder and gave the police the information needed to locate the murder weapon.
His trial took two days and ended with his court-appointed attorneys offering no defense or objections. The jury quickly found him guilty as charged, and he was sentenced to death.
The execution was set for May 3, 1946. The then-16-year-old young man strapped to “Gruesome Gertie,” Louisiana’s infamous portable electric chair. For reasons not entirely known — some claimed that it was due to being prepared by an intoxicated prison guard and an untrained inmate — “Gertie” failed to deliver a lethal shock of electricity. When the switch was pulled, Francis stiffened from the surge of electricity, but it was clear the voltage was much lower than normal. Witnesses reported hearing the teenager scream from behind the leather hood, “Take it off! Take it off! Let me breathe! Sheriff, E.L. Resweber was later quoted as saying: “This boy really got a shock when they turned that machine on.”
An attorney took up Francis’ case and got a stay of execution, pending appeal. His case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Francis’ attorney argued that a second attempt at execution would violate his client’s Constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment and double jeopardy. The justices, by a 5-4 vote, ruled against him. (Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber, 329 U.S. 459 (1947)).
Willie Francis was strapped to Gruesome Gertie for the second time on May 9, 1947. A surge of electricity — this time fatal — hit his body at 12:05 pm. Francis was 18 years old when his second execution was successful.
Read about unusual methods of execution.
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