Suit seeks firing squad ex­e­cu­tions

Op­tion would re­duce er­rors, lawyers say

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - Anita Wad­hwani

NASH­VILLE, Tenn. – Lawyers for four Ten­nessee death row in­mates are ask­ing a fed­eral judge to al­low them to choose a firing squad as an al­ter­na­tive to Ten­nessee’s lethal in­jec­tion or elec­tric chair ex­e­cu­tion meth­ods.

The in­mates filing suit in­clude David Earl Miller, the next man set to die in Ten­nessee for his crimes.

Miller, sen­tenced to death for the 1981 mur­der of Lee Stan­difer, 23, in Knoxville, is sched­uled to be ex­e­cuted Dec. 6. The suit asks the court to post­pone Miller’s ex­e­cu­tion un­til the court can hear the case.

Un­der Ten­nessee’s pro­to­col, Miller will need to se­lect his method of ex­e­cu­tion Tues­day, 30 days be­fore his ex­e­cu­tion. The law­suit asks the court to stop state officials tem­po­rar­ily from pre­sent­ing Miller with that choice.

The law­suit was filed a day af­ter Ed­mund Zagorski, 63, was ex­e­cuted via elec­tric chair for the 1983 mur­ders of John Dot­son and Jimmy Porter. Zagorski robbed, shot and slit their throats af­ter they sought to buy mar­i­juana from him in Robert­son County.

Be­fore his death, Zagorski’s lawyers filed mul­ti­ple chal­lenges.

They won one: Zagorski was granted the right to choose the chair af­ter his le­gal chal­lenge to Ten­nessee’s three-drug lethal in­jec­tion pro­to­col failed. His lawyers ar­gued death by elec­tro­cu­tion would be quicker but main­tained that both meth­ods are un­con­sti­tu­tional.

On Aug. 9, the lethal in­jec­tion ex­e­cu­tion of Billy Ray Irick took at least 20 min­utes to com­plete.

In the suit, lawyers for Miller and three other death row in­mates – Ni­cholas Todd Sut­ton, Stephen Michael West and Terry Lynn King – ar­gued that the state’s elec­tric chair “is sure or very likely to inflict a grue­some and tor­tur­ous death” since the state fails to take into ac­count the differ­ence be­tween in­di­vid­ual pris­on­ers that in­clude pain thresh­olds and the vary­ing amounts of cur­rent re­quired to cause un­con­scious­ness.

Miller, Sut­ton and West had filed suit Aug. 21 seek­ing al­ter­na­tives to Ten­nessee’s lethal drug ex­e­cu­tion method but vol­un­tar­ily dis­missed their suit amid Zagorski’s on­go­ing chal­lenges to Ten­nessee’s ex­e­cu­tion meth­ods.

The state pos­sesses firearms, am­mu­ni­tion and trained per­son­nel nec­es­sary to carry out a firing-squad ex­e­cu­tion, the suit con­tends. Big Buck Shoot­ing Range, on the grounds of River­bend Max­i­mum Se­cu­rity In­sti­tu­tion in Nash­ville, can “eas­ily ac­com­mo­date what lit­tle equip­ment is re­quired for an ex­e­cu­tion by firing squad.”

Trained pro­fes­sion­als re­duce er­ror rates in firing-squad ex­e­cu­tions, the suit claims.

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