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6 executions in 2000 mark increase for state

Death penalty observers say lethal injection is the reason for the increase. Last year, only one inmate was put to death _ by the old way, electrocution.

Florida's electric chair now sits in a tiny storage room behind the execution chamber at Florida State Prison gathering dust and awaiting the unlikely possibility that it will be used again.

Since Florida lawmakers, meeting in special session last January, gave condemned inmates the choice between the electric chair and lethal injection, the six inmates executed in 2000 all chose lethal injection.

The execution Dec. 7 of Edward Castro, who had dropped all his appeals and fired his state-hired attorneys, was the 50th since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1979 and the most since 1984 when eight inmates were executed.

Florida has executed an average of 2.3 inmates per year since 1979. There were no executions in 1980, 1981 and 1982.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, said the increase in Florida executions can be tied to the switch to lethal injection.

"When there was a problem with the electric chair, it stopped all executions," Dieter said. "Clearly, that was the stumbling block."

Three times in the past decade, there were problems that caused delays in its use. Twice, sponges atop the inmate's head caught fire, and in another case blood poured from an inmate's nostrils.

Carolyn Snurkowski, an assistant attorney general who handles death appeal cases, said the increase could be a combination of the number of cases that have worked their way through the system and a change in the method of execution.

"We're dealing with a lot less litigation" after the state changed to lethal injection, she said.

The switch was prompted by plans by the U.S. Supreme Court to determine whether Old Sparky was cruel and unusual punishment.

Terry M. Sims, 58, became the first inmate executed by lethal injection in Florida. He was executed on Feb. 23 for the 1977 slaying of a volunteer deputy sheriff in a Central Florida robbery. The next day, Anthony Bryan, 40, died from lethal injection for the 1983 slaying of a night watchman, who was abducted in Mississippi and killed in Florida.

On Florida's third execution by lethal injection, the condemned inmate, Bennie Demps, 49, complained he was mistreated.

While strapped to a gurney before his death, Demps said: "They butchered me back there. I was in a lot of pain."

Demps, executed June 7 for the 1976 slaying of another inmate, complained that officials took nearly an hour to prepare him for execution and that they cut his groin and leg to look for a vein into which they could insert an intravenous tube.

Two weeks later on June 21, Thomas Provenzano, 51, was executed for a 1984 shooting death at the Orange County courthouse in Orlando.

The final two executions of 2000 were of inmates who dropped all their legal appeals. Dan Patrick Hauser, 30, was executed Aug. 25 for the 1995 murder of a waitress and dancer in Destin, and Castro, 50, was executed Dec. 7 for the January 1987 slaying of an Ocala man.

In 1999, there was only one execution in what could be the final use of the chair, Florida's method of execution for 76 years.

On July 8, 1999, Allen Lee "Tiny" Davis entered the death chamber in a wheelchair. After the fatal jolt of power was applied, blood poured from behind a leather mask and onto his white shirt.

Nationwide, there were 84 prisoners put to death in 2000, about a 14 percent decrease from the 98 put to death in 1999.

Of the 84 executions, 40 of them occurred in Texas, marking the largest number of executions in one year in the nation's history. The second-largest number took place in 1862 when the U.S. Army executed 39 American Indians in Minnesota after an uprising there.