Page 36 of Detective


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Ainslie wondered if electrical execution really was as savage and barbaric as so many claimed. What he was now seeing certainly seemed so, and there were other instances to support that belief. He knew of one a case nearly a decade ago. . .

On May 4, 1990, in Florida State Prison, a condemned prisoner named Joseph Tafero, convicted of killing two police officers, received an initial two thousand volts. Flames and smoke erupted at once as his head and a supposedly wet sponge beneath the death cap caught fire. The executioner immediately turned the current off. Then, for four minutes, the current was repeatedly turned on and off again, and each time more flames shot out and smoke poured from under a black mask covering Tafero's face. Through it all, Tafero continued to breathe and slowly nod his head until, after three voltage surges, he was finally declared dead. Witnesses were sickened; one fainted. Later an official statement admitted "there was a fault in the headpiece." Another claimed Tafero "was unconscious the minute the current hit him," though few witnesses believed it.

Some people, Ainslie was reminded, argued that execution should be barbaric, given the nature of the crime preceding it. The gas chamber, still used in the United States, killed a prisoner by suffocation with cyanide gas, and witnesses said it was a terrible, frequently slow death. There seemed a consensus that death by lethal injection was more humane though not in the case of former drug users with collapsed veins; finding a vein to administer the dose could take an hour. A bullet to the head, used in China, was probably swiftest of all, but the prior torture and degradation was undoubtedly the world's most bestial.

Would Florida adopt some other form of execution, perhaps lethal injection? Ainslie speculated. It seemed unlikely, given the public mood about crime, and widespread anger that criminals had brought the Sunshine State into international disrepute, thereby frightening away tourists, so vital to Florida's livelihood.

As to his own feelings about capital punishment, he had been opposed to it as a priest and was against it now, though for different reasons.

Once upon a time he had believed all human life to be divinely inspired. But not anymore. Nowadays he simply believed that judicial death morally demeaned those who administered it, including the public in whose name executions were carried out. Also, whatever the method, death was a release; a lifetime in prison without parole was a greater punishment by far. . .

* * *

The warden's voice interrupted Ainslie's thoughts, this time transmitted to the witness booth, as he read aloud the black-bordered death warrant, signed by the state governor.

" 'Whereas . . . Elroy Selby Doil was convicted of the crime of murder in the first degree, and thereupon . . . sentenced for said crime to suffer the pains of death by being electrocuted by the passing through his body of a current of electricity . . . until he be dead . . .

" 'You the said Warden of our State Maximum Security Prison, or some deputy by you to be designated, shall be present at such execution . . . in the presence of a jury of twelve respectable citizens who shall be requested to be present, and witness the same; and you shall require the presence of a competent practicing physician . . .

" 'Wherefore fail not at your peril . . .' "

The document was lengthy, burdened by pompous legalisms, and the warden's words droned on.

When he was finished, a prison guard held a microphone before Doil, and the warden asked, "Do you have any last words?"

Doil tried to wriggle but was too tightly secured. When he spoke, his voice was choked. "I never..." Then he spluttered, trying vainly to move his head while managing only a feeble "Fuck you!"

The microphone was removed. Immediately the preexecution procedures resumed, and again Ainslie wished he were not watching, but the process was hypnotic; none of the witnesses turned their eyes away.

A tongue pad was forced between Doil's teeth, so he could no longer speak. Beside the chair, the prison electrician dipped his hand into a five-gallon bucket containing a strong salt solution and retrieved the copper contact plate and a natural sponge. He inserted both in the death cap poised above Doil's shaven head. The contact plate was a perfect conductor of electricity; the salt-soaked sponge, also a good conductor, was intended to prevent the burning of Doil's scalp and the resulting sickly stench of seared flesh that had offended witnesses in the past. Mostly the sponge worked; occasionally, as in the Tafero execution, it didn't.

The death cap was lowered onto Doil's head and secured in place. At the front a black leather strip served as a mask, so that Doil's face could no longer be seen.

Ainslie sensed a collective sigh of relief from the witnesses around him. Had it, he wondered, become easier to watch now that the victim had, in a sense, become anonymous?

Not anonymous, though, to Cynthia in the seat beside him. Ainslie saw now that Cynthia and Patrick Jensen had their hands entwined so tightly that Cynthia's knuckles were white. She must hate Doil fiercely, he thought, and in a way he could understand why she was here, though he doubted that watching Doil die would ease her grief. And should he tell her, he wondered, that while Doil had confessed to fourteen murders, he had denied killing Gustav and Eleanor Ernst something Ainslie himself considered might be true? Perhaps he owed that information to Cynthia, if only because she was a former police officer and colleague. He wasn't sure.

On the execution floor, all that remained was the connection of two heavy electric feed lines, one to the top of the death cap, the other to the lead-lined ground pad around Doil's right leg. Both were attached quickly and locked down with heavy wing nuts.

At once the guards and electrician stepped back, well clear of the chair, though making sure not to block the warden's view.

In the witness booth, some of the media people were scribbling notes. One woman witness had grown pale and held a hand to her mouth as if she might be sick. A man was shaking his head, clearly dismayed by what he saw. Knowing the intense competition for seats, Ainslie wondered what motivated people to come. He supposed it was a universal fascination with death in all its forms.

Ainslie returned his attention to the warden, who had rolled up the death warrant and now held it, poised like a baton, in his right hand. He looked toward the executioner's booth, from where, through the rectangular eye slit, a pair of eyes peered out. In a single gesture the warden lowered the rolled warrant and nodded his head.

The eyes disappeared. An instant later a heavy thank reverberated throughout the execution chamber as the red death switch was turned on and heavy circuit breakers engaged. Even in the witness booth, where microphones and speakers were again cut off, a softer thud was audible. Simultaneously the lights all dimmed.

Doil's body convulsed, though the initial effect of two thousand volts surging through him was largely suppressed because, as a reporter wrote for the next day's edition, Doil was "strapped in tighter than a fighter pilot." The same effect, however, was repeated during a two-minute automatic killing cycle, the voltage falling to five hundred, then rising back again to two thousand, eight times in all. At some executions the warden would signal the executioner to override the automatic control and switch off if he believed the first cycle had done the job. This time he let the full cycle run, and Ainslie suddenly smelled the rancid odor of burning flesh, which had seeped into the witness booth through the air conditioning. Others nearby wrinkled their faces in disgust.

When safety clearance had been given, the doctor moved to the chair, opened Doil's shirt, applied a stethoscope, and listened for a heartbeat. After about a minute he nodded to the warden. Doil was dead.

The rest was routine. Electric lines, belts, and other fastenings were quickly undone. Doil's released body slumped forward into the arms of the waiting guards, who swiftly transferred it to a black rubber body bag. The bag was zipped up so quickly that it was impossible to see from the witness booth if the body was burned. Then, on a gurney, the remains of Elroy Doil disappeared through the same doorway that only minutes earlier he had entered alive.

By this time most witnesses were on their feet, preparing to leave. Without waiting, Ainslie turned toward Cynthia and said quietly, "Commissioner, I feel I should tell you that shortly before his execution, I talked to Doil about your parents. He claimed "

Instantly she swung toward him, her expression blank. "Please, there is nothing I want to hear. I came to watch him suffer. I hope he did."

"He did," Ainslie said.

"Then I'm satisfied, Sergeant."

"I hear you, Commissioner."

But what did he hear? Following the others, Ainslie left the witness booth wondering.

Immediately outside, where witnesses were gathered, waiting to be escorted from the prison, Jensen broke away and approached Ainslie.

"Just thought I'd introduce myself. I'm "

"I know who you are," Ainslie said coolly. "I wondered why you were here."

The novelist smiled. "I have a scene in a new novel about an execution and wanted to see one firsthand. Commissioner Ernst arranged to get me in."

At that moment Hambrick appeared. "You don't have to wait here," the lieutenant told Ainslie. "If you'll follow me, we'll get your gun, then I'll take you to your car." With a cursory nod to Jensen, Ainslie left.

3

"I saw the lights dim," Jorge said. "I figured Animal was getting the juice."

Ainslie said quietly, "He was."

It was their first exchange since leaving the prison ten minutes earlier. Jorge was driving the Miami Police blueand-white and handled outward clearance through the prison checkpoints. They passed the inevitable demonstrators on the way; a few still held lighted candles, but most were dispersing. Ainslie had been silent.

He had been deeply affected by the grim process by which Doil had died. On the other hand, there was no denying Doil got what he deserved, though of course that took into account Ainslie's knowledge that Doil was guilty not only of the two killings for which he had been charged and sentenced, but for at least twelve others.

He touched his suit jacket pocket, where he had put the crucial recording of Doil's confession. When and how the taped information would be released, or if it would be made public at all, would be someone else's decision. Ainslie would turn over the tape to Lieutenant Newbold, and the Police Department and the state attorney's of lice would handle it from there. Jorge began, "Was Animal "

Ainslie interrupted. "I'm not sure we should call him Animal anymore. Animals only kill when they have to. Doil did it for " Ainslie stopped. Why did Doil kill? For pleasure, a religious mania, uncontrollable compulsion? He said aloud, "For reasons we'll never know."

Jorge glanced sideways. "Anyway, did you find out anything, Sergeant? Something you can tell me?''

Ainslie shook his head. "I have to talk with the lieutenant first."

He checked his watch: 7:50 A.M. Leo Newbold was probably still at home. Ainslie picked up the phone from the seat beside him and tapped out the number. Newbold answered on the second ring.

"I thought it was you," he said moments later. "I presume it's all over."

"Well, Doil's dead. But I doubt very much if it's over."

"Did he tell you anything?"

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