Ten­nessee’s elec­tric chair pro­ce­dures ahead of ex­e­cu­tion

The Commercial Appeal - - Business - Natalie Neysa Alund Nashville Ten­nessean USA TO­DAY NET­WORK - TEN­NESSEE

Con­demned mur­derer Ed­mund Zagorski re­quested to die this week by elec­tro­cu­tion in Ten­nessee.

Just three hours be­fore the 63-yearold man was sched­uled to die Thurs­day, Gov. Bill Haslam de­layed the in­mate’s ex­e­cu­tion so the state could be pre­pared to use the elec­tric chair to kill him.

Twelve in­mates across the United States – one in Ten­nessee, one in Arkansas, three in South Carolina and seven in Vir­ginia – have opted for elec­tro­cu­tion over other means of ex­e­cu­tion in­clud­ing lethal in­jec­tion.

The last time the elec­tric chair was used was Jan. 16, 2013, when Robert Glea­son Jr., asked to be killed by the elec­tric chair in Vir­ginia.

TDOC’s elec­tro­cu­tion pro­ce­dures

Ac­cord­ing to the Ten­nessee Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tion’s ex­e­cu­tion pro­ce­dures for elec­tro­cu­tion, the chair is in­spected and tested quar­terly.

It’s also tested two weeks prior to a sched­uled ex­e­cu­tion.

The pri­son war­den is re­spon­si­ble for main­tain­ing test­ing and in­spec­tion records, the pol­icy states.

A li­censed pro­fes­sional elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer must be present dur­ing all elec­tro­cu­tions and fol­low­ing the ex­e­cu­tion, a physi­cian ex­am­ines the in­mate to con­firm they are dead. Equip­ment used: ❚ Nat­u­ral sea sponges (two head and eight an­kle) sat­u­rated with wa­ter, sodium chlo­ride and iodized ta­ble salt ❚ Elec­tri­cal tester lead ❚ Amp clamp ❚ Test load box ❚ Trans­former ❚ Elec­tric con­sole ❚ Am­per­age me­ter ❚ High volt­age gray cable ❚ Low volt­age black cable ❚ Four 100 amp fuses ❚ Head piece and an­kle elec­trodes ❚ Spe­cially de­signed chair

The elec­tric chair’s first use in Ten­nessee

Ten­nessee is one of sev­eral states to nick­name its elec­tric chair “Old Sparky.” The chair was built out of the gal­lows used by the state be­fore it abol­ished hang­ings in 1913.

A re­place­ment chair was built in 1989, but it kept the old wooden back legs.

The orig­i­nal chair that was re­tired af­ter 125 elec­tro­cu­tions is now on dis­play at the Ri­p­ley’s Be­lieve It Or Not mu­seum in Gatlin­burg, while the new chair is stored in the state’s ex­e­cu­tion cham­ber in Nashville along­side the lethal in­jec­tion equip­ment.

The chair’s last use in the state

The last per­son to be elec­tro­cuted in Ten­nessee was convicted child killer Daryl Holton, who in 2007 chose to die via the elec­tric chair.

The state’s med­i­cal ex­am­iner later found that Holton suf­fered mi­nor burns on his head and legs, but had no signs of se­vere burn­ing, dis­fig­ure­ment or other ma­jor in­juries that had oc­curred in some other elec­tro­cu­tions around the coun­try.

Un­der pre­vi­ous law, death row in­would mates convicted be­fore lethal in­jec­tion was in­tro­duced in 1999 could choose to die by elec­tro­cu­tion.

Pri­mary means of ex­e­cu­tion

Lethal in­jec­tion is the pri­mary means of ex­e­cu­tion in states where it’s le­gal:

Alabama, Ari­zona, Arkansas, Cal­i­for­nia, Colorado, Florida, Ge­or­gia, Idaho, In­di­ana, Kansas, Ken­tucky, Lou­i­si­ana, Mis­sis­sippi, Mis­souri, Mon­tana, Ne­braska, Ne­vada, New Hamp­shire, North Carolina, Ohio, Ok­la­homa, Ore­gon, Penn­syl­va­nia, South Carolina, South Dakota, Ten­nessee, Texas, Utah, Vir­ginia, Wash­ing­ton, and Wy­oming.

The elec­tric chair is an al­ter­na­tive method of ex­e­cu­tion in nine states: Ten­nessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Ken­tucky, Mis­sis­sippi, Ok­la­homa, South Carolina and Vir­ginia.

Other means of ex­e­cu­tion al­lowed in sev­eral other states are the gas cham­ber, hang­ing and fir­ing squad.

The tem­po­rary re­prieve

Zagorski faces death for the April 1983 mur­ders of John Dale Dot­son and Jimmy Porter.

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.

Haslam said Thurs­day short de­lay give the state time to ac­com­mo­date Zagorski’s pref­er­ence for the elec­tric chair over a con­tro­ver­sial lethal in­jec­tion cock­tail. Late Thurs­day night, the U.S. Supreme Court elim­i­nated two other le­gal hur­dles that might have de­railed the ex­e­cu­tion, mak­ing it more likely to move for­ward soon.

The gover­nor’s tem­po­rary re­prieve and the high court’s de­ci­sions came af­ter sev­eral days of rapid-fire de­vel­op­ments put the state on the de­fen­sive and put the tim­ing of Zagorski’s ex­e­cu­tion in ques­tion.

Haslam’s re­prieve was for 10 days, but it could take longer for a new ex­e­cu­tion date to be set by the Ten­nessee Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down two stays Thurs­day night, es­sen­tially end­ing his re­main­ing le­gal op­tions to avoid ex­e­cu­tion:

❚ The high court va­cated a stay from the 6th Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals. The ap­peals court had planned to weigh whether Zagorski may pur­sue claims his trial at­tor­neys made er­rors in rep­re­sent­ing him.

❚ A ma­jor­ity of jus­tices re­jected a re­quest from Zagorski’s at­tor­neys for an­other stay so the high court could re­view a con­sti­tu­tional chal­lenge to Ten­nessee’s lethal in­jec­tion pro­to­col.

Reach Natalie Neysa Alund at nalund@ten­nessean.com. Fol­low her on Twit­ter @na­tal­iealund.


This is a pris­oner-made model of the Ten­nessee elec­tric chair from Ten­nessee State Pri­son in Nashville.

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