Ohio's Electric Chair Dismantled, Put Into Storage

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The state's 105-year-old electric chair has been unplugged.

"Old Sparky," which had not been used for 39 years, was unbolted and dismantled Tuesday, said state prisons spokeswoman Andrea Dean. It was put into storage at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville until the Ohio Historical Society decides what to do with it.

"The discussions are ongoing with the appropriate state officials and I imagine the transfer will be soon," society spokesman Michael Ring said.

The Legislature eliminated the chair as an execution option late last year. The change took effect in time to block John W. Byrd Jr. from getting his wish to die in the chair as a protest against the death penalty.

Byrd, convicted of murder in the 1983 stabbing of Monte Tewksbury, was executed by injection Feb. 19 in the same room where the chair sat at the Lucasville prison.

The chair, made of wood and metal, has been at Lucasville since 1972. It was last used in 1963 at the old Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus.

One of the oft-repeated stories about Old Sparky turned out to be just that -- a story.

Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction officials began researching the case of inmate Charles Justice -- who was said to have helped build the chair only to die in it -- last fall when prisons Director Reginald Wilkinson recommended the state stop using the chair.

It's just an urban legend, Wilkinson acknowledged -- even though prison officials have been telling the Justice story as fact for many years.

In state prison records, Justice is listed as the 38th of 315 people executed since the chair replaced hanging. The records say Justice "agreed to help build the chair and played a major role in installing it."

Officials have learned that Justice, a broom maker from Greene County, wasn't even in prison when the chair was built and installed in 1897 at the old Ohio Penitentiary.

But it is now unclear whether any inmate was involved in building the chair.

It is true, however, that Justice was executed in it on Oct. 27, 1911, for murdering farmer John Shoup.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)