Tennessee execution: Billy Ray Irick tortured to death, expert says in new filing

Editor's note: Reporter Dave Boucher was one of seven state-required media witnesses at Irick's execution. 
Billy Ray Irick felt searing pain akin to torture before he died in a Tennessee prison in August, but steps taken in carrying out his execution blocked signs of suffering, according to a doctor who reviewed information about the lethal injection.
In new court filings entered late Thursday amidst an ongoing legal challenge of Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol, Dr. David Lubarsky said statements from people who witnessed the execution indicated the controversial drug midazolam failed to ensure Irick could not feel pain during his death.
As a result, the death row inmate “experienced the feeling of choking, drowning in his own fluids, suffocating, being buried alive, and the burning sensation caused by the injection of the potassium chloride,” Lubarsky wrote in the filing.
The document also says the state did not follow its own lethal injection protocol, raising questio…

Alabama executes Torrey Twane McNabb

Torrey Twane McNabb
Following last-minute court challenges, Alabama carried the execution Thursday evening of Torrey Twane McNabb, convicted of killing Montgomery police officer Anderson Gordon in 1997.

McNabb's attorneys filed appeals in the case throughout Thursday to halt the execution that was set for 6 p.m. at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore. the last stay was lifted between 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. McNabb's official time of death was 9:38 p.m.

Gordon's family issued a statement after the execution.

"Over 20 years ago we lost a companion, a father a brother and a friend who only wanted to make a difference in his community. Brother, who we affectionately called him, worked to make a difference in his community until his life was taken from him," the statement read in part. "Though this has been a difficult day for the Gordon family, we also continue to pray for the family of Torrey McNabb."

McNabb's final words were as follows:

"Mom, sis, look at my eyes. I'm unafraid ... To the state of Alabama, I hate you motherf***ers. I hate you. I hate you."

A brief portion of his final words was unintelligible.

McNabb raised both of his middle fingers twice during the lead-up to his death.

He raised his right arm and grimaced about 20 minutes before he was declared dead, just after a corrections officer performed the second round of consciousness checks. McNabb's family members and attorneys audibly expressed concern that he was not yet unconscious at that point.

Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn addressed the concerns about the late movements by McNabb during a press conference immediately following his execution.

"Yes, Im confident he was more than unconscious at that point. I've witnessed several of these executions and involuntary movements are not uncommon," Dunn said. "We did perform two consciousness checks ... We don't talk specifically about the protocol. But as I said we err on the side of safety and we want to be sure we follow the protocol as it is written."

Gordon's wife, three siblings and two children attended the execution, as did two sisters of McNabb's and two of his attorneys.

Attorney General Steve Marshall also issued the following statement after the execution: 

"The 20-year wait for justice is finally over for the family of Montgomery Police Corporal Anderson Gordon III. In 1997, Torrey McNabb took the life of Officer Gordon, shooting him five times as he sat in his patrol car.  Tonight, the family of Officer Gordon can finally seek peace."

Holman prison in Atmore, AlabamaUpdated at 8:25 p.m.: The Department of Corrections has received word that the stay issued shortly before 6 p.m. has now been lifted. They've told reporters witnessing the execution that they will be ferried back to Holman in a few minutes.

The brief order from the court reads, "The application for stay of execution of sentence of death presented to Justice Thomas and by him referred to the Court is denied. The order heretofore entered by Justice Thomas is vacated."

Updated at 8:05 p.m.: Four members of the Alabama media, including one AL.com reporter, were shuttled by van to the main Holman Correctional Facility building at about 5:30 p.m. They remained in the van for more than two hours awaiting a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, and were driven back to the press building a few minutes before 8 p.m.

Updated at 6 p.m.: Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas issued a temporary stay of execution for McNabb. The stay came down just minutes before the scheduled 6 p.m. execution. In the past, temporary stays have been lifted within hours. Alabama has until midnight to execute McNabb or face having to go back to the Alabama Supreme Court to set another execution date.

Updated at 5:42 p.m.: McNabb's attorneys have gone back to Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas seeking a stay of the execution.

Updated at 5:30 p.m.: McNabb did not request a final meal and he did not eat at all on Thursday. He requested that no chaplain attend his execution, according to DOC spokesman Bob Horton.

"McNabb asked that nothing be present of a religious nature, such as a prayer, be performed before or during his execution," Horton told reporters Thursday afternoon.

Updated at 5:23 p.m.: After the U.S. Supreme Court ordered his stay lifted late Thursday afternoon, McNabb's attorneys requested a "traditional" stay from the 11th Circuit, which denied the motion. Attorneys also had asked Watkins for another stay, which the judge denied. 

McNabb has spent the last 18 years on death row, after being convicted of fatally shooting Montgomery police officer Anderson Gordon in September 1997. McNabb was convicted on two capital murder counts-- one for killing Gordon while he was on duty, and one for killing him as Gordon sat in his patrol car. McNabb also was found guilty of two additional counts of attempted murder.

McNabb, 40, who was convicted in the shooting death of Gordon, had tonight's execution stayed by U.S. District Court Judge Keith Watkins on Monday. A three-member panel of the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday kept that stay in place.

The Alabama Attorney General's Office then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court late Wednesday in an effort to have the execution go on at 6 p.m. tonight.

In a brief order issued just after 4 p.m. today, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the stay be lifted, clearing the way for tonight's execution.

"Alabama has already carried out four executions using this protocol," the AG stated in its appeal to the Supreme Court. "Three of those executed inmates were co-plaintiffs in this case, and their stay requests were denied by both this Court and the Eleventh Circuit."

McNabb had been granted a stay under a law called the All Writs Act.

In its order this afternoon granting the Attorney General's request, the U.S. Supreme Court stated that inmates "seeking time to challenge the manner in which the State plans to execute them must satisfy all of the requirements for a stay, including a showing of a significant possibility of success on the merits."

"The All Writs Act does not excuse a court from making these findings. Because the District Court enjoined Respondent's execution without finding that he has a significant possibility of success on the merits, it abused its discretion. We accordingly vacate the injunction."

Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justices Stepehn Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor stated they would have denied the request by the AG  to vacate the injunction. 

McNabb's attorneys then filed a request this afternoon with Judge Watkins to grant a stay with a finding of a "substantial possibility of success." Watkins had not ruled prior to 5:30 p.m. Thursday. 

McNabb becomes the 3rd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Alabama and the 61st overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1983.

McNabb becomes the 21st condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1463rd overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.  The USA carried out 20 executions last year, and currently there are 6 executions scheduled nationwide in November and 1 in December.

Source: AL.com, Connor Sheets and Lawrence Specker, Rick Halperin, October 19, 2017

'I hate you': Inside the execution chamber as Alabama cop-killer put to death

Alabama's death chamberTorrey McNabb's execution was stayed twice before he was put to death with middle fingers literally raised Thursday night.

Convicted of the 1997 murder of Montgomery police officer Anderson Gordon, in his final waking words McNabb did not express any remorse for the shooting that landed him on death row and left a family broken.

Of everyone he knew before he shot Gordon five times in his patrol car, just two sisters and two attorneys showed up to represent him in the viewing room and bear witness as he spit out his last vitriolic sentences.

"To the state of Alabama, I hate you motherf***ers. I hate you. I hate you," he said moments before he was administered the lethal injection in Holman Correctional Facility's drab, antiseptic execution chamber.

Gordon's family released their own statement shortly after McNabb was officially declared dead Thursday night.

"Over 20 years ago we lost a companion, a father a brother and a friend who only wanted to make a difference in his community. Brother, who we affectionately called him, worked to make a difference in his community until his life was taken from him," the statement read in part. "Though this has been a difficult day for the Gordon family, we also continue to pray for the family of Torrey McNabb."

At a time when the death penalty is under intense scrutiny and states across the nation have halted executions, McNabb's final moments served as something of a case study of the controversial punishment.

The Alabama Department of Corrections is under fire for using drugs in executions that some have alleged do not effectively ensure that inmates do not suffer as they are put to death.

About twenty minutes after the first in a succession of drugs entered his bloodstream, McNabb raised his right arm and hand and his face briefly twisted into an intense grimace. His sisters and attorneys all responded audibly, saying in the viewing chamber - a room where silence is supposed to reign - that he seemed to have felt pain and not have been unconscious as the death-delivering chemicals coursed through his system.

His execution also featured the last-minute legal wrangling that so often takes place when states kill a human in this day and age. First, late in the afternoon Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a stay on his execution. His attorneys quickly scrambled to file requests for the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. District Court Judge Keith Watkins to issue new stays. The 11th Circuit panel denied the request and Watkins also later issued a denial.

McNabb's attorneys also proceeded to request that the U.S. Supreme Court stay the execution.

One AL.com reporter and three other members of the media filed into a van at around 5:30 p.m. Thursday to be taken to the main Holman building, where McNabb was awaiting his death.

Four minutes before his scheduled execution time of 6 p.m., reporters and the DOC got word that the Supreme Court had stayed the execution pending consideration, buying the justices time to consider the last-ditch attempt to stop the proceedings.

Two DOC employees and the four journalists remained in the media van for more than two hours, awaiting a decision from the Supreme Court. The DOC made the decision at that point to drive the media the short distance back to the press building, where they would remain for another hour or so.

All of a sudden, a little before 8:30 p.m., DOC spokesman Bob Horton announced that the Supreme Court had lifted the stay; the reporters had just a few minutes to get in the van and head back to the prison building.

After passing through the tall gate and backing into a parking spot just feet from the entrance to the short hallway leading to the execution chamber, the media van's doors remained closed for several minutes as McNabb's witnesses filed into the facility. The reporters followed close behind.

The viewing room is built out of whitewashed cinderblocks and has three rows of chairs for the witnesses to sit on. McNabb's sisters and attorneys sat in the front row, and the reporters occupied the second. A reddish fluorescent light permeated the room from the far end, giving the room the eerie feel of a dim movie theater moments before the show begins.

After a few minutes of tense waiting, a correctional officer in a pressed baby-blue uniform drew back the curtain on the other side of the one-sided mirror that separated the witnesses from McNabb. It was about 8:52 p.m.

The convicted killer was dressed in all white, his legs and feet wrapped tightly in a white sheet, his body strapped down to a gurney by straps that looked like seatbelts. His arms were strapped down at 90-degree angles to his body, his splayed-out frame forming the shape of a cross.

At first, his hands were balled tight into fists and his eyes were wide open. He seemed to be staring directly into the viewing area to his left, where his witnesses and the press were seated, though the mirrored glass on his side of the window presumably made it physically impossible for him to see them.

Cynthia Stewart, Holman's warden, took a microphone from its place on the wall and spoke into it. Her legalistic words were piped into the viewing chamber by a single outdated rectangular speaker reminiscent of ones used in old elementary schools for the daily announcements.

"It is now considered that the motion to set an execution date has been granted," she declared, reading from the death warrant.

McNabb proceeded to deliver his defiant last words. Because he requested that no prayer be read and that his execution have no religious aspect - the first time such a request has been made in recent decades, according to people who have witnessed many Alabama executions - his were the last words stated before the lethal injection got underway.

"Mom, sis, look at my eyes. I'm unafraid ... To the state of Alabama, I hate you motherf***ers. I hate you. I hate you," he said.

He then closed his eyes and raised both of his middle fingers, pointing them directly at the two viewing chambers that contained his family and attorneys to his left, and Gordon's family to his right.

McNabb eventually re-opened his eyes and lowered his middle fingers, balling his fists once again. He repeatedly opened and closed his eyes, then at about 8:58 p.m. raised his middle digits again, this time with his eyes wide open.

He proceeded to express a singular moment of emotion, gazing at the one-way mirror that divided him from his sisters and moved his mouth in a way variably described by those in attendance as either blown kisses or an attempt as mouthing words. One of his sisters briefly raised a single fist in solidarity.

His hands twitched a minute later, and seemed to go limp shortly thereafter. At 9:00, the same sister who had raised her fist exclaimed, "We love you. Put it in bold print - capital Love." A correctional officer standing in the back of the witness room told her to "Please remain quiet."

One minute later, the correctional officer standing next to McNabb in the execution chamber bent his head down toward him and loudly said, "Inmate McNabb" three times. At 9:02, the officer put his hand on McNabb's forehead and briefly opened his left eyelid. Then he pinched his skin under his left bicep for several seconds. At 9:03 McNabb's hand and mouth moved a small amount in response to this "consciousness check."

At 9:05, the single opaque tube that stretched from a hole in the wall of the execution chamber into McNabb's body moves a bit, presumably an indication that more drugs were being pumped into him. He does not respond, but his chest continues to move up and down as he breathes. His mouth moves almost imperceptibly at 9:07, and his breathing quickens at 9:08, becoming more perceptible to viewers' eyes. His sisters and attorneys quietly conjectured that he is still conscious at this point. His left hand moves slightly at 9:10.

At 9:12, the correctional officer again leans down and says, "Inmate McNabb." His left hand twitches a few seconds later. The officer again lifts his eyelid and proceeds to pinch him at 9:13.

McNabb's body briefly writhes, and his sister says, "His whole body moving." All four witnesses are audibly upset that he is still moving at this point.

At 9:17, his right hand and arm abruptly shoot straight up from their resting place, staying aloft for several seconds. He visibly grimaces for a brief moment, twisting his head against the gurney.

"He finna wake up," his sister cries.

Later in the evening, DOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn will tell the media in a press conference that he is "confident he was more than unconscious at that point" in response to questions about the arm motion and facial expression.

"I've witnessed several of these executions and involuntary movements are not uncommon," Dunn said. "We did perform two consciousness checks ... We don't talk specifically about the protocol. But as I said we err on the side of safety and we want to be sure we follow the protocol as it is written."

McNabb's chest stops visibly rising and falling - he seems to have stopped breathing - at about 9:20. "He dead now," his sister says, resignedly, at 9:22. The witnesses continue to stare at his unmoving body. "He gone," McNabb's sister says at 9:30.

The correctional officer standing over his body closes the curtain between the viewing room and the execution chamber at 9:31.

The DOC later says that McNabb's official time of death is 9:38 p.m. Central Time, Oct. 19, 2017.

Source: AL.com, October 20, 2017

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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