AP update on latest legal maneuver on TN death penalty

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Death row inmate Billy Ray Irick (EYE’-rik) is asking the Tennessee Supreme Court to postpone his Oct. 7 execution pending the outcome of a challenge to the state’s lethal injection protocol.

Last December, the court moved Irick’s execution date from January to October because of the lawsuit pending in Davidson County Chancery Court. Irick and nine other death row inmates are challenging the state’s new one-drug method, which replaces three drugs. They also are challenging how the new drug, pentobarbital, is procured.

Irick was sentenced to death for the 1985 rape and murder of a 7-year-old Knoxville girl he was babysitting.

Tennessee last executed a prisoner nearly five years ago. Since the execution of Cecil Johnson on Dec. 2, 2009, Tennessee and other states around the country have faced a series of legal challenges surrounding the three-drug execution combination that was commonly in use at the time.

States also have faced a shortage of one of the drugs, sodium thiopental, after a European-led boycott of drug sales for executions.

In response to these issues, Tennessee adopted a new one-drug execution method in September 2013. The General Assembly also acted, passing a law that would allow the state to use the electric chair in the event the Department of Correction is unable to obtain the execution drug.

Irick and the other plaintiffs have asked the Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman to allow them to amend their lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of forcing a prisoner to undergo electrocution. Previously, Tennessee law gave inmates who committed crimes before 1999 the choice of whether they wanted to die by electric chair or lethal injection.

Bonnyman has not yet ruled on the issue.

The state wants Irick’s execution to go forward despite the pending legal challenge. The attorney general’s office argued in a response filed Tuesday with the Supreme Court that other states have found one-drug execution protocols similar to Tennessee’s to be constitutional. Other states also have upheld the use of compounding pharmacies to procure the execution drug.