Tennessee executed Edmund Zagorski by electric chair last night

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Edmund Zagorski was executed in Tennessee last night by electric chair, the first time in 11 years the state has used that method.

The 63-year-old Zagorski had been on death row for 34 years for the April 1983 murder of two men, John Dotson and Jimmy Porter, during a drug deal. At the time of his sentencing, Tennessee didn’t have the option of a sentence of life without parole, and in the years since his conviction six of his former jurors said they would not have sentenced him to death if they had had that option.

Zagorski had asked for a stay from The U.S. Supreme Court in the hours before he was killed, arguing that it was unconstitutional for him to have to choose between the state’s two methods of execution — lethal injection or the electric chair. He opted for the electric chair, his lawyer said, as the lesser of two evils. The Supreme Court denied the stay, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor strongly objecting.

“He did so [chose the electric chair] not because he thought that it was a humane way to die, but because he thought that the three-drug cocktail that Tennessee had planned to use was even worse,” Sotomayor said in the statement. “Given what most people think of the electric chair, it’s hard to imagine a more striking testament — from a person with more at stake — to the legitimate fears raised by the lethal-injection drugs that Tennessee uses.”

The Tennessean described the execution:

“He sat in the wired chair as prison staff placed a wet sponge that had been soaked in saline solution, and metal helmet on his freshly shaved head. He continued smiling, but grimaced each time drops ran down his face. 

Then his head was covered with a black shroud so the witnesses couldn’t see his face as electricity jolted through his body.

The warden gave the signal to proceed. Zagorski lifted his right hand several times in what looked like attempts at a wave, before he clenched his hands into fists as the first charge of 1,750 volts of electricity was sent through his body for 20 seconds.”

Zagorski’s last words were, “Let’s rock.”

Zagorski’s attorney spoke at a press conference immediately following Zagorski’s death. Emotional but very calm, her comments really convey the barbarity of what we are doing when we kill men and women in the name of justice. You can watch the press conference here.

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