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State Defends Its Chair, But Will Test Again

October 16, 1985

MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. (AP) _ Indiana’s 72-year-old electric chair took 17 minutes and five jolts of electricity Wednesday to execute a man for the stabbing and dismemberment of his father-in-law, but a prison official said the mechanism was working properly.

However, the chair, which is wired directly to a Northern Indiana Public Service Co. power substation, will be tested again soon, Department of Correction spokeswoman Nancy D. Broglin said.

″We are going to have that chair checked to reconfirm what we already know - that it was not malfunctioning in any way,″ she said.

William E. Vandiver, 37, was pronounced dead at 12:20 a.m. in the wooden chair that has been used for executions since it was fashioned from the gallows abandoned by the state in 1913 after 13 hangings.

″The chair has been used 61 times, including last night, and has never failed, except sometimes it needs more than one application,″ Mrs. Broglin said.

The chair was tested three times before Vandiver’s execution by a private contractor using ″established electrical procedures,″ she said.

Dr. Rodger D. Saylors, who pronounced Vandiver dead, said the first jolts of 2,300 volts for 10 seconds and 500 volts for 20 seconds left him brain dead but still breathing.

The doctor said he could not explain why Vandiver survived a third surge, 500 volts for 20 seconds, with a heart rate of 40 beats per minute before he was killed by 2,300 volts for five seconds followed by 500 volts for 25 seconds.

Herbert Shaps, Vandiver’s attorney and a witness to the execution, said Vandiver was hooded and sitting with his fists clenched when he was strapped into the chair at 12:02 a.m.

″What I saw initially was smoke coming from someone’s head,″ Shaps said. ″There was a tremendous smell of burning in the room. Ultimately, the fans had to be turned on.″

Vandiver’s fists remained clenched throughout most of the execution, Shaps said.

″I think it was outrageous,″ he said.

The last Indiana execution requiring more than two jolts was that of Richard Kiefer in 1961, when six jolts were used to execute the Fort Wayne mechanic for the death of his wife, Mrs. Broglin said.

Only two jolts were needed to execute Steven T. Judy on March 9, 1981 - the last execution in Indiana.

Vandiver was convicted in the 1983 slaying of his father-in-law, Paul Komyatti Sr., 65, a retired Hammond construction worker.

Vandiver’s wife, Mariann, and Komyatti’s wife and son, Rosemary and Paul Jr., were also convicted in the death and sentenced to prison.

Investigators say the family hated the strict Komyatti and hoped to benefit from the inheritance.

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