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David Earl Miller moved to death watch as his execution approaches

If things move forward as expected, Miller, 61, would be the third man put to death in 2018, although his attorneys are still fighting delay the execution.

Tennessee death row inmate David Earl Miller has been moved into a cell next to the electric chair days before his scheduled execution.

The Tennessee Department of Corrections announced the move Tuesday, as preparations for Miller's execution continued. The new cell is part of Miller's "death watch," a period of time within 72 hours of an execution, when an inmate is under 24-7 surveillance and other heightened security measures.

Unless a court or Gov. Bill Haslam intervene, Miller will stay in the new cell until he is put to death Thursday night. Miller, 61, has told prison officials he wants to die by the electric chair.

Inmates can choose the chair over lethal injection if they were convicted of a crime that took place before 1999. The chair was used last for the execution of Edmund Zagorski on Nov. 1.

State officials said they are prepared to use the electric chair.

Miller's execution seems likely to move forward - his legal options are dwindling, with long-shot requests for a stay pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. Gov. Bill Haslam has not commented on Miller's request for clemency, but the governor has not stopped previous executions.

Miller was sentenced to death for the 1981 murder of Lee Standifer, 23, in Knoxville.


Tennessee is scheduled to execute inmate David Earl Miller Thursday after 36 years on death row.

If things move forward as expected, Miller, 61, would be the third man put to death in 2018, although his attorneys are still fighting delay the execution.

Miller was sentenced to death after he was convicted of murdering Lee Standifer, 23, in 1981.

Ongoing legal challenges

Miller's legal team is still trying to delay his death, although their options are dwindling.

His legal team has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to delay his death while the justices consider a separate lethal injection case. That request is pending. Courts rejected similar arguments for postponing Edmund Zagorski's execution in November.

Miller is one of four death row inmates suing in federal court asking Tennessee to use a firing squad rather than lethal injection or electrocution.

RELATED: Judge won't delay David Earl Miller execution, but orders phone access for his attorney

The judge, in that case, said executions could move forward while that challenge is pending. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals similarly declined to delay the execution while the suit is in court. Miller's lawyers have appealed this issue to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Previous death row inmates asked Gov. Bill Haslam for mercy before their executions. A spokeswoman for the governor said Miller's attorneys filed a clemency petition Friday.

Miller to move to death watch Tuesday

If preparations move forward as expected, Miller will be moved out of his cell on death row and into a cell next to the execution chamber for a three-day period known as "death watch."

During death watch, the 72 hours leading up to an execution, "strict guidelines are implemented to maintain the security and control of the offender and to maintain safe and orderly operations of the prison," according to the Tennessee Department of Correction.

Last-minute intervention from the courts or the governor could still delay the execution at any point during death watch.

Preparation for the electric chair

Miller has chosen to die by the electric chair. Tennessee used the chair last month to execute Zagorski.

Here is how staff will prepare Miller for death by electrocution on Thursday, according to state documents/

  • At 5 p.m., Miller will be dressed in cotton pants, a shirt and cotton socks or cloth house shoes.
  • Around an hour later, prison staff will shave Miller's head and legs.
  • At 7 p.m., prison staff will take Miller out of his cell next to the execution chamber. He will be led to the electric chair.
  • Staff will strap Miller into the chair with an “electric chair harness and wrist straps.” Four sponges soaked in salt water will be strapped around his ankles to increase conductivity.
  • At 7:10 p.m., blinds to the witness rooms will open and the warden will ask Miller for last words.
  • After that, prison staff will place another sponge soaked in salt water on Miller's head. Staff will then place the electric chair “head piece” on Miller's head. They will also place a shroud around his face.
  • More salt brine will be poured over the ankle sponges.
  • The warden will give the signal to proceed, and the executioner will activate the electric chair.
  • The electric chair will release 1,750 volts of electricity for 20 seconds, will stop for 15 seconds and then will release 1,750 volts for another 15 seconds.
  • After the first wave of electricity, officials will wait five minutes and then close the blinds into the witness room.
  • A doctor will check Miller for signs of life. If there are none, the doctor will pronounce him dead.

Reach Adam Tamburin at 615-729-5986 and atamburin@tennessean.com. Follow him on Twitter @tamburintweets.