Morbid: What would be the effect of electrocuting someone for 20 years?

Some folks were discussing a real-life crime news story on Facebook and one over-zealous person commented: “Put her (the culprit) in the electric chair for 20 years.” To which someone else complained, “There would be nothing left but ashes.”

So…since the Dope is the place for the true-but-morbid, what results could one expect if a condemned criminal were electric-chair’d for 20 years? Ashes?

Man, I wouldn’t want to pay that electric bill.

You’ll quickly get into “plane on a threadmill” territory here where it all depends on what assumptions you make. It’ll be very hard to turn someone into a pile of ashes that way though. Once water has evaporated from the contact points the current will drop and even if there’s enough voltage to have an arc from electrode to a still conductive part of the body it seems likely that that will cease as the gap between electrodes and conductive flesh increases.

Yep. I suppose fire might break out at some point and destroy the apparatus. If not, dessication is going to prevent good electrical contact after a fairly short number of hours or days. If other parts of the body that haven’t dried up undergo decay, this may release fluids or cause slumping that may resume the electrical contact for a while.

Why 20 years ? The few seconds of torture is more than enough

TMI Alert - last 2 paragraph of this page

“ The main reason for the abandonment of the electric chair, ….

In 2007 there was a college student at Purdue who was electrocuted while fumbling around a darkened electrical room and his body remained electrified until it was discovered over two months later, but i cant find a source for how badly damaged the body was.

Send him to a circuit court judge!

[From Electrocute Definition & Meaning - Merriam-Webster](https:// Definition of electrocute transitive verb 1 : to kill or severely injure by electric shock)

I guess you could electrocute them for a while, allow healing, then do it again…


If nothing else, once they died, they’d start rotting.

They probably would never need hair straightener again.

Can bacteria do their usual decomposition work if they’re subject to 24/7 electrical current?

The linked article doesn’t appear to state that the body remained electrified - is that fact stated somewhere?

The full report states that Steffey’s body was found in the same position in which he died, still in contact with the live wire. Other sources state that the discovery of the body occurred due to a janitor hearing popping or pinging sounds coming from the electrical room, which were caused by electricity arcing from his body into a pool of fluids that had drained from him during that time.

In fact, we’ve even got a thread about it from when it happened.

And here’s an article from the time of the discovery, confirming that they had to turn off the power to safely remove the body.

Cool - thank you

I think electric chairs haven’t been designed to run non-stop and will overheat in about an hour, maybe less. So leaving the corpse in the chair for the next 20 years will result in decomposition varying according to local conditions and the state of the corpse when the machine breaks down.

I recall some article about the failure of the electric chair as an execution method (some had to be toasted multiple times, as also mentioned in the linked article). One victim apparently while it did not kill him, the sponge on his head burst into flames (originally soaked IIRC in salt water to enhance skin contact). Like the guillotine, it was supposed to be a more humane way of executing people compared to hanging, which is the alleged goal of execution. But apparently, some states in putting people to death cannot even do as good a job as your local vet.

Well, I don’t really want to try and land a plane on a treadmill, but if we assume a purpose-built device, I think eventually you’d have a pile of jerky, some pieces still attached to the bone.

No doubt that on a small scale - say insects bridging contacts - they can fry, dessicate and turn into a carbonised remnant in a few seconds. Where I live possums are a problem as they run along the power lines. One false step from live wire to earthed power pole and instant dead possum. Our power poles are a local propriety design of two steel I sections separated with a poured concrete - cheap strong, termite proof and capable of cutting a car in half. Also a nice solid earth. Many poles have a dedicated earth spike as well.
The electrical company service trucks carry long fibreglass prodder poles for the express purpose of knocking possums off the power poles. Unless there is a power outage it may be some time before they get to the carcass. Apparently we get about 60 33kV power lines outages a year due to possum self immolation. I would imagine that the possum would have adsorbed a lot of energy before the line tripped. Probably not enough to burst into flame, but if the line didn’t trip, it might be a real possibility.

The diagram of the body included in the report shows his hand a short distance from the transformer bushing where the fatal contact was thought to have occurred. So I didn’t get the impression he was still, um, empowered when found.