Riverbend Maximum Security Prison in Nashville is home to Tennessee's death row.
A Tennessee death row inmate chose the electric chair for his upcoming execution after the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled Monday
for a lethal injection protocol that some have called "tortuous."
Edmund Zagorski is scheduled to be executed Thursday. He was sentenced to die after he was convicted of killing two men during a drug deal in Robertson County. He shot the men, robbed them, and then slit their throats, prosecutors said.
Zagorski’s attorney, Supervisory Assistant Federal Public Defender Kelley Henry, called lethal injection and the electric chair “unconstitutional methods of execution.” But he said Zagorski believes the electric chair is the “lesser of two evils.”
”Ten to 18 minutes of drowning, suffocation, and chemical burning is unspeakable,” Henry said in a statement. “We notified prison officials of his decision within two hours of the Tennessee Supreme Court’s decision."
Tennessee Justices ruled 4-1 Monday against a lawsuit brought by death row prisoners that challenges the state's lethal injection protocol. For those being executed, Henry has said the state’s new, three-drug cocktail “will feel like being burned alive from the inside."
"Today a divided Tennessee Supreme Court paved the way for torturous executions," Henry said in a statement Monday. "The decision is unfortunate and we will appeal to the United States Supreme Court."
Attorneys for Tennessee’s death row inmates suggested pentobarbital as an alternative to the new three-drug cocktail. The state began using that drug for executions in 2013 but had to stop because they could not find the drug anymore. Anti-death-penalty advocates lobbied the drug’s Danish manufacturer to stop selling it for executions, according to court papers.
Since the inmates could not find the drug, either, Justices here ruled that the new three-drug cocktail did not amount to cruel or unusual punishment.
“After our review of the record and applicable authority, we conclude that the inmates failed to carry their burden of showing availability of their proposed alternative method of execution — a one-drug protocol using pentobarbital—as required under current federal and Tennessee law,” reads the majority opinion. “For this reason, we hold that the inmates failed to establish that the three-drug protocol constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution or article I, section 16 of the Tennessee Constitution.”
Further, the Justices said the inmates failed to “prove the other essential element — that the three-drug protocol creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain.”
In a dissenting opinion
, Justice Sharon G. Lee described an “uphill battle” for the inmates and their attorneys in the case. Lee pointed to a “cloak of secrecy regarding Tennessee executions,” ”extraordinary and unnecessary time constraints imposed by the court, and the state’s evasiveness and last-minute decision about its lethal injection protocol.”
Lee said laws that require attorneys and their clients to find execution alternatives in cases like these have “been aptly described as ‘perverse.’”
“Considering the Eighth Amendment's clear prohibition on ‘cruel and unusual punishments,’ the focus here should have been on whether the petitioners proved that the state's execution method was likely to cause needless suffering and pain,” Lee wrote. “Yet the petitioners' claims and evidence of intolerable pain and torture were not the basis of the trial court's decision and thus not reviewed on appeal.”
For this and more, Lee said the “proceedings have not been fundamentally fair" to the inmates in the case.
A Shelby County man, Sedrick Clayton, is scheduled for execution on November 28th. He was convicted and sentenced to death here in 2014 for murdering the mother of his child and her parents.