A 63-year-old man who has been on death row for 34 years is scheduled to be executed Thursday in Nashville – but not by electric chair as he requested.
Edmund Zagorski was convicted of murdering John Dale Dotson and Jimmy Porter in April 1983. He shot them, slit their throats and stole their money and a truck, prosecutors say. The two men had expected to buy 100 pounds of marijuana from Zagorski.
Earlier this week, Zagorski chose the electric chair as the method for his execution. His decision was announced Monday after the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that executions by lethal injection could proceed.
Here’s what you need to know as Tennessee moves closer to killing Zagorski, the second death row inmate this year after the execution of Billy Ray Irick in August.
Zagorski’s legal team is still trying to block the execution
Lawyers filed a flurry of documents in court Tuesday trying to stop Zagorski’s execution at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, including an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the appeal, they argued the Tennessee Supreme Court held them to a “perverse and unworkable” standard during a legal challenge to the state’s lethal injection method.
Zagorski and 31 other death row inmates had sued to block the state from using a controversial three-drug cocktail in executions. Experts testified the drugs would lead to pain so severe it would violate the U.S. Constitution, which forbids cruel and unusual punishment.
The state’s high court didn’t consider that argument at all, saying the inmates had failed to provide a feasible alternative drug.
In the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Zagorski’s attorneys argued the Tennessee court had failed him by fast-tracking the appeals process and then ignoring the substance of his complaint. They asked the Supreme Court to postpone his execution and consider the case.
“The Tennessee Supreme Court declined to address the level of suffering that the three-drug protocol would inflict at all,” the attorneys wrote.
A separate request to stay the execution is pending in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Zagorski asked for the electric chair
After the Tennessee Supreme Court issued its ruling Monday, Zagorski told prison officials he’d rather die via the electric chair than lethal injection.
In an affidavit sent to prison officials, Zagorski framed it as a choice between two evils.
“Between two unconstitutional choices, I choose electrocution,” he stated, reiterating his belief that both of the state’s execution methods violate the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which forbids cruel and unusual punishment. “I do not want to be subjected to the torture of the current lethal injection method.”
The state ‘refused’ his request, according to his attorney
The Tennessee Department of Correction “refused” to follow Zagorski’s wishes to use the electric chair, according to his attorney Kelley Henry, a federal public defender. Prison officials said it was “too late” to sidestep a lethal injection.
Agency spokeswoman Neysa Taylor declined to respond to questions about Zagorski’s preference for the electric chair, citing the pending court matters.
Prison staff train to use the electric chair monthly and tested it in February.
Prison officials Tuesday moved Zagorski to death watch, which is a period of added regulation and observation in the three days before execution.
Zagorski was moved into a cell next to the execution chamber and was put under 24-hour supervision.
Spiritual adviser says state wants to ‘torture’ Zagorski
Reports of death row inmate Irick’s suffering during his lethal injection on Aug. 9 led in part to Zagorski’s request for the electric chair, said the Rev. Joe Ingle, a United Church of Christ minister and Zagorski’s spiritual adviser.
The details of Irick’s execution are common knowledge on death row, said Ingle, who has ministered there for decades.
“I think the guys felt like Billy Irick suffered a long time and no one wants to go through that,” Ingle said. “As bad as the electric chair is, and it’s pretty bad, it’s not that.”
The decision not to follow Zagorski’s request prompted Ingle to question the state’s morality.
“The state of Tennessee is not content merely to electrocute a human being but wants to go out of the way to defy the statute of Tennessee and torture him to death,” Ingle said.
Photo Credit: The Texas Tribune