Billy Ray Irick’s execution in Tennessee caused him to feel like he was “being buried alive”

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A doctor who reviewed statements from witnesses to last month’s execution of Billy Ray Irick in Tennessee stated in court filings that their accounts indicate Irick “experienced the feeling of choking, drowning in his own fluids, suffocating, being buried alive, and the burning sensation caused by the injection of the potassium chloride.”

The Tennessean reports that Dr. David Lubarsky also said that the witnesses’ statement made it clear that midazolam, the first drug administered in the three drug lethal injection cocktail, did not render Irick unconscious and unable to feel the effects of the other two drugs, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride.

Lubarsky’s statement was included in court filings submitted late last week as part of an ongoing legal challenge to Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol. In July, Lubarsky testified for Irick and 32 other condemned prisoners in a two-week trial arguing that midazolam doesn’t work as the sedative and pain barrier the state says it does. Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Ellen Hobbs Lyle rejected their arguments, saying the pain the prisoners were likely to suffer didn’t amount to constitutional torture, and the U.S. Supreme Court subsequently refused to issue a stay for Irick. However, the lawyers for the remaining death row prisoners are continuing to appeal Lyle’s ruling.

“Lubarsky and other medical experts are the backbone for the inmate’s appeal,” the Tennessean says. “The case is not about whether the death penalty is constitutional, attorneys for the death row offenders wrote in the 390-word brief. It’s about what the deadly drugs do to a body, and whether Tennessee citizens should approve of that likely tortuous outcome.”

The paper also reports that the prisoners’ attorneys obtained documents that show that in a clear violation of protocol, corrections officials did not have a second dose of midazolam on hand to inject him with if the first dose didn’t render him unconscious.

“Witnesses (one of whom was Tennesseean reporter Dave Boucher) described Irick choking, snoring, gulping and gasping for air as the drugs were administered. They also said he jolted and appeared to push against the restraints at one point,” the paper reports.

Still, the paper says, “Tennessee courts denied all of Irick’s legal requests, and appear poised to do the same [procedure] ahead of the state’s next execution,” which is scheduled for next month.

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