A man convicted of the rape and murder of a seven-year-old girl in 1985 was executed in Tennessee on Thursday, August 9.
Billy Ray Irick was charged with the horrific crime 33 years ago. His execution is the 15th carried out in the United States this year.
Irick received a three-drug injection after the US Supreme Court denied a final request to stay his execution.
The lethal injection has been described by the Supreme Court as ‘chemically burning at the stake’. There is currently a pending legal challenge against the state’s use of the three-drug injection, particularly surrounding the drug Midazolam’s effectiveness as a sedative in executions.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor said:
Although the Midazolam may temporarily render Irick unconscious, the onset of pain and suffocation will rouse him. And it may do so just as the paralysis sets in, too late for him to alert bystanders that his execution has gone horribly (if predictably) wrong.
In refusing to grant Irick a stay, the Court today turns a blind eye to a proven likelihood that the State of Tennessee is on the verge of inflicting several minutes of torturous pain on an inmate in its custody.
If the law permits this execution to go forward in spite of the horrific final minutes that Irick may well experience, then we have stopped being a civilised nation and accepted barbarism.
The victim’s family watched the execution from a separate viewing room, but declined to speak at the news conference or release a statement. The procedure lasted eight minutes, according to WATE 6.
Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery said justice for the Knoxville schoolgirl, who Irick raped and murdered while babysitting, had been delayed too long.
I hope tonight’s lawful execution in some way eases the heartache [the girl’s] family has lived with, and brings a degree of closure to a chapter of their lives that has been indescribably difficult.
Hours before the procedure, Irick’s lawyer made a final attempt to save the man’s life, saying he had suffered psychosis for most of his life and was mentally ill at the time of the crime, reports the Independent.
Gene Shiles, Irick’s attorney, said:
I never thought for one moment it would come to this. I never did. I thought somebody would actually look at the facts. I was wrong.
Like the lethal injection, the state of Tennessee also has pending legislation that would make it illegal to apply the death penalty to a person suffering from serious mental illness.
Robert Durham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Centre, said:
It’s unseemly that Irick would be executed and then the case ultimately gets resolved in his favour.
Before the execution, Irick’s final words were:
I just want to say I’m really sorry. And that, that’s it.
Mr Slatery added:
The death penalty is constitutional and it is the law of the State of Tennessee. It has taken decades and multiple court hearings, but justice was finally served for the murder and aggravated rape of [the seven-year-old girl].
Irick’s execution is the first in Tennessee since December 2009.
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.