Tennessee Executes by Electric Chair for First Time in Five Years
NASHVILLE – November 2, 2018
An execution by electrocution was carried out yesterday in Tennessee for the first time in five years. Death row inmate Edmund Zagorski died at 7:26 p.m. He was 63.
He is the 134th person put to death by Tennessee since 1916 and the second this year after Billy Ray Irick’s execution by lethal injection on Aug. 9. He is the first person to die by electric chair since Daryl Horton's execution in 2007.
Zagorski was convicted in the April 1983 murders of two people.
Zagorski had asked the federal court to force the state to use the electric chair for his execution; the state initially refused and planned to move forward with lethal injection but District Judge Aleta Trauger ruled that afternoon that the state could not use lethal injection until Zagorski's claim had been heard.
His request to die by electric chair saved his life – at least for a few weeks, when Gov. Bill Haslam granted reprieve three hours before his scheduled execution on Oct. 11.
Zagorski was set to die three weeks ago, but the move bought the state time to prep the chair during last-minute legal wrangling.
The prisoner’s last words were: "Let’s rock."
The debate over capital punishment has burned hot in Tennessee. Like many states, Tennessee’s death penalty law was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972.
Officials moved quickly to pass new laws governing the punishment in 1975. But legal challenges kept the death penalty on hold, and it wasn’t until 2000 that an execution was carried out.
Six men were put to death by lethal injection and one was executed by electric chair through 2009. A hiatus followed until Irick's execution on Aug. 9.
Irick and Zagorski were part of a group of 32 death row offenders suing the state over its lethal injection method. The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in a 4-1 majority in October that the drugs can continue in Tennessee even though medical experts said the state's controversial three-drug protocol tortures inmates to death.
In the past the state has also gone back and forth on whether the electric chair should be used again. It's unclear how Zagorski's request for the chair will impact executions in the state moving forward but experts on executions predict more death row inmates could follow his lead.
Death row inmate David Earl Miller is set to be executed Dec. 6. Miller, 61, was convicted of killing a disabled woman with a fire poker in 1981. He is the longest current member of Tennessee's death row.
In the U.S., the death penalty is legalized in 30 States, being used in cases of aggravated murder, though sentences are usually not carried out. More than 2,500 people are on death row, some of them for decades.
Most executions are carried out in Texas.
It sometimes turns out that a death row inmate’s guilty verdict was wrong. Since 1973, 156 people sentenced to death were later acquitted of charges.