FEATURED POST

In the Bible Belt, Christmas Isn’t Coming to Death Row

Image
When it comes to the death penalty, guilt or innocence shouldn’t really matter to Christians.  

NASHVILLE — Until August, Tennessee had not put a prisoner to death in nearly a decade. Last Thursday, it performed its third execution in four months.
This was not a surprising turn of events. In each case, recourse to the courts had been exhausted. In each case Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, declined to intervene, though there were many reasons to justify intervening. Billy Ray Irick suffered from psychotic breaks that raised profound doubts about his ability to distinguish right from wrong. Edmund Zagorksi’s behavior in prison was so exemplary that even the warden pleaded for his life. David Earl Miller also suffered from mental illness and was a survivor of child abuse so horrific that he tried to kill himself when he was 6 years old.
Questions about the humanity of Tennessee’s lethal-injection protocol were so pervasive following the execution of Mr. Irick that both Mr. Zagorski and M…

What happened in and outside Riverbend prison as Billy Ray Irick was put to death

Abraham Bonowitz of Columbus, Ohio, hangs a sign as protesters gather outside the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution against the execution of Billy Ray Irick in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018.
In the parking lot of Riverbend Maximum Security Institute, an empty podium and tent stood under a gray sky.

It was muggy and quiet.

A small group of reporters — those who weren’t selected as the seven media witnesses to the state execution of Billy Ray Irick — shuffled around the parking lot awaiting news of his death, a sentence set to be carried out more than three decades after Irick was convicted of the Knox County murder of 7-year-old Paula Dyer.

Orange cones and caution tape dotted a field by the prison, a grassy area that would become a gathering point for those who came to make known their opinions on the execution of Irick.

On the right side were those who came to hold a vigil in protest of Irick’s execution, a somber crowd of 50 clergy members, activists and everyday citizens who oppose the death penalty.

On the left of the cones, just four supporters of Irick’s execution gathered.

Rick Laude, of Nashville, arrived with a portable speaker, announcing he would play AC/DC’s “Hells Bells” during the time Irick’s execution was scheduled to take place.

In a hot chapel at Fisk University, around 60 people — a crowd mostly over the age of 50 — gathered to hold a vigil, as those opposed to the execution of Irick did at churches in Knoxville and Memphis.

The family of Paula Dyer entered the prison around 5:15 p.m.

Gene Shiles, Irick's attorney, followed after.

At 5:30 p.m., media witnesses were taken into holding rooms inside the prison, where they went through a metal detector and body scanning security machines.

The entry room had just been painted white. The brush strokes were still visible and the smell of fresh paint was strong.

The reporters, Shiles, Deputy Attorney General Scott Sutherland, Knox County Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones and Neysa Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Correction, sat around a large wooden table in a light blue room.

They drank coffee. The media witnesses chatted. The energy felt nervous.

Jones and Sutherland wouldn't talk, but Shiles discussed how Irick had been in his final days: "Brave and stoic."

A guard handed each witness a large plastic bag containing a legal pad and two pencils.

At 6:17 p.m., the group walked out of the waiting room and into the belly of the prison, briefly traveling outside down a sidewalk, past razor wire and a sally port.

A sign next to the door of the main prison building read "do not pick the flowers," though there were no flowers to pick.

The witnesses waited in a parole board hearing room. Nobody talked.

After walking through a visitation room filled with vending machines, at 6:43 p.m., witnesses entered the observation room, where there were three rows of 15 red plush chairs.

An official announced the lights would be going out.

Moments after 7 p.m., the crowd in the field by the prison formed a circle, holding candles and passing the flame as the sun continued to shine behind the clouds.

As they recited the Prayer of St. Francis together, the beginning bell tones to “Hells Bells” rang out. As they had announced, the small group of death penalty supporters continued to play the song as their opposition prayed.


After a mix-up over when Sutherland and Shiles were supposed to go back into the execution chamber to observe the IVs being placed in Irick's arms — the correct time was 7 p.m. — Shiles and Sutherland went back at 7:12 p.m.

Shiles kissed Irick's forehead and touched his arm, returning with Sutherland to the viewing room at 7:25 p.m.

There was a microphone check inside the chamber, which sounded like a scraping noise.

A minute later, the window curtains were raised to unveil the execution chamber.

Irick, with shoulder-length hair and a scraggly beard, dressed in a white, short-sleeved jumpsuit and wearing black socks, was being held down on a gurney with straps — similar to a seatbelt — over his chest in an X.

Leather straps bound Irick’s arms.

Riverbend Warden Tony Mays asked Irick if he had any last words.

“No,” Irick said.

The warden wiped his hand over his face, a signal to the executioners to begin administering midazolam, a drug intended to render Irick unconscious.

"I just want to say I'm really sorry,” Irick blurted out. “And that — that's it."

His eyes closed. The midazolam had been given to him.

Riverbend maximum security prison
Outside, a death penalty supporter shouted to those at the vigil that they should be praying for Paula Dyer.

“All you care about is a monster,” the man shouted, receiving little reaction from the group gathered to pray.

At 7:30 p.m., Irick began snoring. His head moved from left to right and the snoring gradually became louder.

Inside the execution chamber, at 7:34 p.m., Mays performed a consciousness check, approaching Irick, and putting his hand over Irick's face. He shouted “Billy! Billy!” to no response.

Mays grabbed Iirick's right shoulder and pinched and twisted it before stepping back.

A family member of Paula Dyer leaned toward the glass, nervously biting one of his nails.

A woman in the family also moved her body forward, her face nearly pressed to the window. There was little emotion in her face.

At 7:35 p.m., Irick's color starts to turn bluish purple.

A minute later, he begins coughing.

At 7:37 p.m. his body noises fade away. From then on, it's unclear whether any other sounds from the room were from him.

Outside of Riverbend, the crowd from the vigil and the death penalty supporters began to disperse. A man lingered to pray on his knees in the field.

Mays rocks on his feet from left to right, as the clock hits 7:44 p.m., his hands clasped.

The sun sets outside.

The blinds close at 7:46 p.m., and the sound of the shuffling of feet can be heard in the execution room, presumably those of the doctor.

At 7:48 p.m., Irick was pronounced dead.

For four to five minutes, witnesses continue to sit in the room before being escorted out of the prison.

Paula’s family emerged from the prison, her mother, Kathy Jeffers, carrying a tissue in her left hand.

A black van pulled up to the prison entrance to pick them up, carrying them away.

Media witnesses emerged from the building, stepping to the podium one at a time to give their account of Irick’s final moments.

Source: The Tennessean, Natalie Allison and Dave Boucher, August 10, 2018


Tennessee: Billy Ray Irick "exhibited signs of pulmonary edema during an execution that took more than 20 minutes"


Billy Ray Irick
Over sharp dissents by justices of the U.S. and Tennessee Supreme Courts and lingering questions about the prisoner's history of mental illness and the efficacy of the state's lethal-injection protocol, Tennessee executed Billy Ray Irick on August 9.

He was the first person executed by the state since 2009.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor described the process as a "rush to execute" and a descent into "barbarism." 

In the days leading up to the execution, the Tennessee Supreme Court and Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam rejected Irick's request for a stay or clemency. 

The state Supreme Court ruled on August 6 that Irick had failed to show his challenge to the execution protocol was likely to succeed on appeal, a requirement for the court to allow the lawsuit to proceed. 

Judge Sharon Lee dissented from the majority decision, writing, "The harm to Mr. Irick of an unconstitutional execution is irreparable. Yet the harm to the State from briefly delaying the execution until after appellate review is minimal, if any." 

Governor Bill Haslam declined to exercise his clemency power in Irick's case, saying that the judicial review of the case was "extremely thorough." 

Gene Shiles, Irick's attorney disagreed: "The truth is no facts relating to Billy’s state mind at the time of the offenses — including his hallucinations and talking to 'the devil' were ever considered by a single court on the merits. These facts, the most important to reasoned decisions as to guilt and punishment, were instead 'defaulted' and never weighed because they were determined to be untimely — raised too long after the trial." 

The U.S. Supreme Court denied a stay, but Justice Sonia Sotomayor strongly dissented from that denial, writing, "In refusing to grant Irick a stay, the Court today turns a blind eye to a proven likelihood that the State of Tennessee is on the verge of inflicting several minutes of torturous pain on an inmate in its custody, while shrouding his suffering behind a veneer of paralysis. I cannot in good conscience join in this 'rush to execute' without first seeking every assurance that our precedent permits such a result. If the law permits this execution to go forward in spite of the horrific final minutes that Irick may well experience, then we have stopped being a civilized nation and accepted barbarism." 

The Tennessean reported that Irick's execution was "certain to fuel a fierce national debate surrounding the drugs used to kill him, and if they amount to state-sanctioned torture." 

Federal public defender Kelley Henry said Irick exhibited signs of pulmonary edema during an execution that took more than twenty minutes. 

Henry said media witnesses had reported that “Mr. Irick ‘gulped for an extended period of time,’ was ‘choking,’ ‘gasping,’ ‘coughing,’ and that ‘his stomach was moving up and down.’ 

Witnesses described movement, including movement of the head, after the consciousness check. This means that the second and third drugs were administered even though Mr. Irick was not unconscious,” Henry said. 

Media reports indicated that the second and third drugs, a paralytic agent and potassium chloride, would cause a pain similar to drowning and being burned alive. 

Source: Death Penalty Information Center, August 10, 2018


⚑ | Report an error, an omission, a typo; suggest a story or a new angle to an existing story; submit a piece, a comment; recommend a resource; contact the webmaster, contact us: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com.


Opposed to Capital Punishment? Help us keep this blog up and running! DONATE!



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

Most Viewed (Last 7 Days)

Death penalty in Tennessee: What I saw when I watched David Earl Miller die in the electric chair

Alvin Braziel Jr. scheduled to be last inmate executed by Texas in 2018

Tennessee executes David Earl Miller

Texas executes Alvin Braziel Jr.

In the Bible Belt, Christmas Isn’t Coming to Death Row

Iranian Juvenile Offender Milad Azimi Saved from Execution

Mississippi justices reject challenges over execution drug

The Electric Chair Is Back and the Death Penalty Is on Life Support

Inside the Supreme Court’s latest case on cruelty and the death penalty

Texas: Border Patrol agent charged with capital murder, prosecutors will seek death penalty