In 1985, a jury convicted Billy Ray Irick of raping and killing a 7-year-old girl he was babysitting. He was sentenced to death, and he’s been sitting on death row ever since.
Now, Tennessee officials say they’re ready for his scheduled execution, which is two-and-a-half months away.
“There’s not much I can say at this point about the October scheduled execution other than we are prepared to proceed when necessary,” said Dorinda Carter with the Tennessee Department of Correction. “We are confident we will have the necessary chemicals when needed.”
And in Tennessee, 11 murderers on death row are suing state officials over the source of its lethal drug choice — pentobarbital — since the state is shielding the identity of its supplier. The state switched to pentobarbital last year following a national scarcity of one of the drugs in the three-drug cocktail that was used to put inmates to death.
Irick, who could be executed 75 days from now, is among the inmates suing.
“What we’re trying to say is: We have a right to know how, and by what means, you’re going to execute our client,” said Chattanooga attorney Gene Shiles, who is representing Irick. “Because we want to make sure that the method and the materials and the expertise that you’re going to be using are all compatible with with a humane way of executing people, and does not violate the 8th Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment.”
Shiles said he expects the state to botch the execution, given that the drug’s origins are not being released. But the drugs used in the Arizona execution — sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphon — are not the same ones planned for the Tennessee case. And the Oklahoma botched execution in April used a different drug altogether, midazolam.
“States have been scrambling over the past many months to find new sources of drugs. They have been experimenting,” Megan McCracken of the University of California Berkeley School of Law’s Death Penalty Clinic recently told the Associated Press. “These procedures are unreliable and the consequences are horrific.”
State legislators passed a law this spring making the electric chair the official death penalty back-up — in the event that legal injection drugs are unavailable.
Tennessee was the first state to reintroduce the electric chair without giving prisoners the option of how to die. Shiles said if Tennessee moves to electrocute his client, he’ll appeal it.
“In a cynical ploy, the legislature decides that, well, if you question what we’re gonna do, then we’ll just go back to this fairly barbaric way of executing people,” he said. “What does that tell you about our society?”