Supreme Court rejects Tennessee death row inmate efforts

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court rejected two last-ditch efforts to save the life of Tennessee death row inmate Edmund Zagorski, apparently clearing the way for his execution despite a delay caused by legal wrangling.

The court rejected a challenge of Tennessee's lethal injection protocol and lifted a stay of execution ordered by a lower court because of inadequate counsel.

The court issued the rulings Thursday night around the time Zagorski's execution had been scheduled. But earlier in the day, Gov. Bill Haslam granted a 10-day reprieve to give the state time to prepare for an execution by electric chair.

It was not immediately clear what options Zagorski's attorneys have in the wake of the decisions by the court and the governor.

"We are reviewing the court's opinion and will assess what options we have," his lawyer, Kelley Henry, wrote in an email.

(Edmund Zagorski via AP)

Zagorski had asked to die in the electric chair earlier in the week, instead of lethal injection, which he argued was cruel and unusual punishment and therefore unconstitutional.

The state denied the request, arguing that Zagorski missed the deadline, but hours before the scheduled execution, a federal judge blocked the state from using its three-drug cocktail.

Zagorski was sentenced in 1984 for the slayings of two men during a drug deal.

Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer dissented from the majority's decision not to stay the execution, with Sotomayor writing that those sentenced to die "are not entitled to pleasant deaths under the Eighth Amendment, but they are entitled to humane deaths.

"The longer we stand silent amid growing evidence of inhumanity in execution methods like Tennessee's, the longer we extend our own complicity in state-sponsored brutality."

Zagorski had been set to be executed at 7 p.m. Thursday, but that was halted after the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday granted a stay over concerns of inadequate representation.

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Notable death penalty executions and people on death row
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Notable death penalty executions and people on death row
Seated on his bunk in the death cell of Iberia Parish Courthouse, convinced that 'The Lord is Still with Me,' is Willie Francis, a 17-year-old who won a million-to-one chance of a reprieve from death when the electric chair failed to kill him, or even hurt him, at his scheduled execution on May 3. Sentenced to die for the murder of a St. Martinville druggist a year ago, Francis was strapped in the chair. The current was applied. The doomed man squirmed and jumped. But when the current was shut off, he was unharmed. 'It tickled a little,' he said. The state will try again to carry out the execution on Thursday May 9th.

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

This is John Wayne Gacy's police arrest photo from Dec. 21, 1978. Following intensive research, investigation and surveillance, Gacy was arrested by the Des Plaines (Ill.) Police Department on Thursday, Dec. 21, 1978. After being charged with and serving time for 33 murders, Gacy was executed in 1994 by lethal injection. Today, Monday, Nov. 23, 1998, technicians began preliminary work on a possible excavation at an apartment building on Chicago's Northwest Side in search of as many as four more possible victims of the mass murderer. The apartment building at one time, was the home of Gacy's mother, and Gacy had done some construction work there. The information regarding the location was recently released from a retired Chicago police officer who said he had seen Gacy carrying a shovel near the area at about 3 a.m. one day in 1975. The former officer reportedly thought little of the Gacy sighting until three years later, when Gacy was charged with 33 murders. The apartment building is about four miles away from Gacy's house.

(Des Plaines Police Department, Tim Boyle)

A portrait of mass murderer Ted Bundy, responsible for a string of murders in Washington state, Utah, and Florida in the 1970s. He was executed in in Florida on January 24, 1989. His actual victim count remains unknown.

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

Aileen Wuornos is shown in this undated photograph from the Florida Department of Corrections. Wournos was executed by lethal injection October 9, 2002 in Florida for murdering six men when she was a prostitute.

(Photo by Florida DOC/Getty Images)

Admitted mass-slayer Charles Starkweather is shown entering court for the second day of his trial for murder. Starkweather admitted killing 11 people and was executed in Nebraska on June 25, 1959. 

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh is shown being escorted from the Noble County Courthouse as he is transported to Oklahoma City for arraignment in this April 22, 1995 file photo. On June 11, 2001, McVeigh was executed after being sentenced to death for the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, a crime that took 168 lives and shook a complacent America to the core.

(Jim Bourg / Reuters)

Gary Gilmore, responsible for the shooting deaths of two men, was executed in Utah on January 17, 1977.

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

Media witnesses to the firing squad execution of John Albert Taylor examine the chair in which Taylor sat as he was shot to death at 12:03 a.m. Mountain time January 26 at the Unita State Penitentiary in Utah. The execution of Taylor was the first by firing squad in the United States since the 1977 execution of Gary Gilmore in Utah.

(POOL New / Reuters)

Stanley 'Tookie Williams' was responsible for several murders and other crimes and was executed in California on December 13, 2005. Williams helped found the Crips gang, but was later nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his anti-gang efforts. He authored such books as 'Life in Prison,' encouraging kids to stay out of gangs, and his memoir 'Blue Rage, Black Redemption'.'

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Teresa Lewis, convicted of murdering her husband and stepson, was executed in Virginia on September 23, 2010. She was the first woman executed in the state in nearly 100 years.

(REUTERS/Virginia Department of Corrections/Handout)

William Bonin (left), a 33-year-old truck driver and registered sex offender, was accused of the 'torture' murders of at least 13 and possibly 21 young males, suspected victims of the so called 'Freeway Killer. He was executed in California on February 23, 1996.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department also said Vernon Butts (right) was an accomplice in at least six of the 21 murders.

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, responsible for Boston Marathon bombing, was sentenced to death on May 15, 2015.

(Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images)

Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the U.S. Army psychiatrist charged in a mass shooting at the U.S. Army post in Fort Hood, Texas, was sentenced to death on August 28, 2013.

(Ho New / Reuters)

Joseph E. Duncan III, a convicted murderer and sex offender, was sentenced to death on August 27, 2008.

 (Photo provided by Kootenai County Sheriff's Department via Getty Images)

Coy Wesbrook was executed in 2016. He fatally shot five people in 1997 with a hunting rifle in a killing spree launched when he found his ex-wife having sex with other men.

(REUTERS/Texas Department of Criminal Justice/Handout via Reuters)

Dylann Roof, the man convicted of murdering nine worshippers at a historic black church in Charleston was condemned to death by a federal jury on January 10, 2017.

(REUTERS/Charleston County Sheriff's Office/Handout)

Death row inmate Ricky Gray is shown in this undated photo released in Washington, DC, U.S. in 2016. Virginia Department of Corrections/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Christopher Wilkins, 48, Texas death row inmate convicted of killing two people in a revenge plot after one had tricked him in a $20 drug deal, is shown in this undated photo in Huntsville, Texas, U.S.. Courtesy Texas Department of Criminal Justice/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

Deathrow inmate Mark Asay is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters August 14, 2017.

He was executed by a lethal injection that included a drug never before used in a U.S. execution, state officials said.

(Florida Department of Corrections/Handout via REUTERS)

Vernon Madison, one of Alabama's longest-serving death row inmates, pictured in this handout photo, to is set to be executed at William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama, United States on May 12, 2016 even as the U.S. Supreme Court has ordered a review into whether the state's current sentencing scheme is constitutional. 

(Alabama Department of Corrections/Handout via REUTERS)

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As the state rushed to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the ruling and ensure the execution took place as scheduled, a separate federal judge barred the state from using lethal injection to kill Zagorski after it refused his request to die in the electric chair.

Tennessee is only of nine states that allow electrocutions. The last electrocution in the U.S. took place in Virginia in January 2013.

Zagorski had asked to die by electrocution just days before his execution because he said the three-drug cocktail the state used constituted cruel and unusual punishment and violated his constitutional rights.

However, the state denied his request, arguing Zagorski waited too long to ask for the electric chair. U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger disagreed with that decision and barred the state's lethal injection method so both Zagorski's request could be honored and more time would be allowed to review the state's lethal cocktail.

Haslam then granted the reprieve.

"I take seriously the responsibility imposed upon the Tennessee Department of Correction and me by law," Haslam said in a statement. "And given the federal court's decision to honor Zagorski's last-minute decision to choose electrocution as the method of execution, this brief reprieve will give all involved the time necessary to carry out the sentence in an orderly and careful manner."

Shortly after the Republican governor's announcement, the Department of Correction said it would return Zagorski to death row after moving him to a "death watch" cell earlier this week.

The Republican governor had said he wouldn't intervene in Zagorski's case.

The temporary reprieve will be in effect until Oct. 21. It's still unknown when Zagorski's new execution date will be set.

"Tennessee's death penalty statute makes it clear that Mr. Zagorski has the right to choose execution by electrocution," Henry said. "While being burned alive and mutilated via electricity is not a good death, Mr. Zagorski knows that death by electric chair will be much quicker than lethal injection using midazolam, a paralytic, and potassium chloride."

Zagorski was sentenced in 1984 in the slayings of John Dotson and Jimmy Porter. Prosecutors said Zagorski shot the men, then slit their throats after robbing them in Robertson County in April 1983. The victims had planned to buy marijuana from Zagorski.

He's been on death row for 34 years, the second longest in Tennessee.

Zagorski's decision to ask for electrocution was based on evidence that Tennessee's lethal injection method would cause him 10 to 18 minutes of mental and physical anguish. He argues the electric chair will be quicker even if it means being set on fire.

In Tennessee, death row inmates whose offenses came before January 1999 can choose either lethal injection or the electric chair. The last time Tennessee put someone to death by electrocution was in 2007.

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