NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A death row inmate has been granted a reprieve from an Oct. 7 execution date.
On Thursday, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that Billy Ray Irick's execution should be put on hold while a challenge to the state's lethal injection and electrocution procedures works its way through the courts.
The lawsuit claims that the state has no way to ensure the purity and potency of the lethal injection drug pentobarbital. It also claims that use of the electric chair amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.
Tennessee changed the law earlier this year to allow the state to execute a prisoner by electrocution in the event that prison officials are unable to obtain pentobarbital. It is the only state that allows use of the electric chair against an inmate's will.
Prior to the change, prisoners could not be forced to die by the electric chair, although they were allowed to choose that method under some circumstances.
Both the new electrocution law and a change to the state's lethal injection protocols last year that proscribed a three-drug execution mix in favor of a single drug were an attempt to get executions started again after a nearly five-year hiatus. Legal challenges to the three-drug protocol and difficulty obtaining the drugs because of a European-led boycott have prevented any executions in Tennessee since Cecil C. Johnson was put to death in December 2009.
But the changes have brought new legal challenges. Irick is one of 11 death row inmates asking the Chancery Court in Nashville to rule that Tennessee's new execution procedures are unconstitutional.
Irick was sentenced to death in 1986 for the rape and murder of a 7-year-old Knoxville girl he was babysitting.
His attorney, C. Eugene Shiles, had no comment on the Supreme Court decision, which delays the execution until after the new challenges are decided. The court stated in its ruling that it would establish an expedited schedule for a resolution in that case.