Death row inmate Edmund Zagorski's attorneys on Wednesday filed an emergency motion in an attempt to force the state to execute him by electric chair.
Zagorski, 63, is scheduled to die Thursday. He asked for the electric chair on Monday after the Tennessee Supreme Court signed off on the state's lethal injection drugs, which experts said leads to a torturous death.
But prison officials said it was too late. According to a Tennessee Department of Correction letter, death row inmates must request the chair a full two weeks before their execution date.
In the emergency motion, filed in federal court, Zagorski's attorneys argued the two-week policy contradicts state law, which does not set a deadline for selecting the electric chair.
"The prison practices the electrocution protocol every month. The electric chair is examined by an electrician every year," his attorneys argued. "The idea that the chamber requires two weeks for reconfiguration is ludicrous. Unless the prison loses power, they can carry out an electrocution.”
In a statement, federal public defender Kelley Henry said Zagorski's decision came late because he was waiting to see if the Tennessee Supreme Court would rule lethal injection drugs unconstitutional. When they ruled the state could move forward with lethal injections, he asked for the electric chair.
“The Tennessee Supreme Court’s divided ruling on the state’s unconstitutional lethal injection protocol forces Edmund Zagorski to choose between two absolutely barbaric methods of death," Henry said. "The state’s three-drug protocol is certain torture."
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Henry said that while the electric chair could lead to "unspeakable accidents and gruesome results," it would only last 15-30 seconds "if done correctly."
"It is unconscionable that the state is refusing to let the prisoner choose the method of his execution, which is his right under the law," Henry said. "Mr. Zagorski remains hopeful that the United States Supreme Court will intervene and stay his execution. The extreme time pressures created by State action have forced him into this awful dilemma.”
The TDOC letter says the two-week deadline is justified, citing a state Supreme Court decision that said Tennessee's execution protocols "prevent the commissioner and TDOC from undertaking any last-minute switch from lethal injection to electrocution."
The letter further states that, because Zagorski's affidavit requesting the electric chair includes an unauthorized written statement, it would be "ineffective" even if it had been submitted on time.
Zagorski, who has been on death row for 34 years, was convicted of murdering John Dale Dotson and Jimmy Porter in April 1983. He shot them, slit their throats and stole their money and a truck, prosecutors say. The two men had expected to buy 100 pounds of marijuana from Zagorski.