Beneath a black hood, a wet sponge between her shaved head and leather skull cap is supposed to ensure that she feels no pain when an anonymous citizen flips a switch to deliver 2,600 volts through her body at the Florida state prison in the northern town of Starke. She was executed on
54-year-old JUDY BUENOANO was convicted of poisoning her husband with arsenic died in the electric chair today in Starke, Fla., becoming the first woman in Florida to be executed since the days of slavery.
Judy Buenoano, a former nail salon owner who was also convicted of murdering her paralyzed son and trying to kill her boyfriend, was pronounced dead at 7:13 A.M. Wearing dark blue slacks and a white shirt and with her head shaved, she closed her eyes as she was strapped to the chair, said Gene Morris, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Corrections. Asked whether she had anything to say, Ms. Buenoano replied ”No, sir,” Mr. Morris said.
Judy Buenoano maintained her innocence to the end.
Judy’s death came almost two months after the execution of Karla Faye Tucker, a Texas woman convicted of beating two people to death with a pick ax. Karla Faye Tucker, who married her prison chaplain and gave regular TV and newspaper interviews before her execution in Texas in February, became a symbol for opponents of the death penalty, winning clemency pleas from the Pope, Jesse Jackson and the TV evangelist Pat Robertson. Judy Buenoano, by contrast, had kept virtually silent, although maintaining her innocence. Wardens at Broward Correctional Institution in Pembroke Pines, just north of Miami, say she has spent the last few days crocheting or knitting baby clothes which her daughter, Kimberly Hawkins, sells.
Of 849 letters sent to Gov. Lawton Chiles urging clemency for four people scheduled to be executed in Florida this year, only 73 referred solely to Ms. Buenoano, said Ryan Banfill, a spokesman for the Governor. Only a handful of protesters stood outside the prison grounds in Starke, in the northeastern part of the state.
This was the first execution of a woman in Florida since 1848, when a slave named Celia was hanged.
Ms. Buenoano’s death has drawn attention less because of her sex than because she has become the third of four people to be executed in eight days in Florida’s electric chair.
In 1997, flames a foot long burst from the hood of Pedro Medina after the chair short-circuited during his execution. Witnesses were shocked and executions were halted again. Experts concluded that Medina had died instantly without feeling pain. Leo Jones, a Death Row inmate, challenged the use of the chair, saying it represented “cruel and unusual punishment” under the US Constitution, but the Florida Supreme Court ruled against him, and the state legislature voted last week to retain the chair. Governor Lawton Chiles signed the bill into law on Thursday, effectively ending Mrs Buenoano’s chances of postponing death.
The state of Florida had no executions for a year after the 75-year-old chair malfunctioned in March 1997, and an inmate’s mask caught fire. In October, the Florida Supreme Court held, by 4 to 3, that the electric chair could be used despite arguments that it was cruel and unusual punishment.
Governor Chiles had signed a bill that maintains the chair as the main mode of execution in Florida but makes lethal injection a backup method in case the courts ruled use of the chair unconstitutional.
On March 23, 1998 Gerald Stano, a convicted serial killer, became the first person to die in the chair in 1998. The next day, Leo Alexander Jones, convicted of killing a police officer, was executed.
”I’m convinced more and more that the death penalty is more of a political issue and less of a criminal issue,” Lauran Strossolino, the Respect Life Coordinator for the Florida Catholic Conference, said today.
Mr. Morris, the corrections department spokesman, who witnessed Ms. Buenoano’s execution, said it had taken place ”with no problems, no complications, no hitches whatsoever.” After 2,300 volts of electricity were shot through her body for 38 seconds, white smoke came out of Ms. Buenoano’s right ankle, where one of the electrodes was fastened. Mr. Morris said this was normal.
Mrs. Buenoano stated that she had been sexually abused during her youth by relatives she stayed with. Unlike Mrs Tucker, she has not tried to play the religious card although she insists she is a devout Roman Catholic. She has said she would prefer to die than spend her life behind the drab grey walls of the Broward jail, where her only companions – during exercise hours – are two other women Death Row inmates. The three call themselves Las Tres Amigas (The Three Friends).
She has already decided on her last meal – a salad of broccoli, tomato and asparagus with a cup of tea. Her planned last words? “Vaya con Dios” – Go with God.