As the execution of Billy Ray Irick approached Thursday, groups opposed to the death penalty gathered across the state.
The group, Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (TADP), organized vigils in Nashville, Memphis, and Knoxville before Irick was put to death at 8:47 p.m. EDT.
In Nashville, roughly 58 people had arrived to protest the death penalty and 8 were protesting in favor of it.
REMEMBERING WHY: 1985 rape and murder of 7-year-old Paula Dyer
The vigil in Knoxville was held at the Shalom House at Church of the Savior, located at 934 North Weisgarber Road at 6:00 p.m.
In a press release, the group said they were demonstrating against the execution while remembering the all victims of violent crime, including Paula Dyer. The 7-year-old was raped and murdered by Irick in 1985.
This was the first execution scheduled in Tennessee in almost nine years.
"The state is planning to carry out the execution using a drug, Midazolam, that has been associated with several problematic executions throughout the country. Experts have argued that the state’s use of Midazolam will increase the possibility of complications," the group stated in a press release.
The group also claims that Irick had a well-documented mental illness
The Catholic bishops of the Dioceses of Knoxville and Nashville issued a joint statement Thursday in opposition to the execution.
We, the Catholic bishops of the Dioceses of Knoxville and Nashville, charged with shepherding the people of our state from the Tennessee River in the west to the mountains in the east, join to voice our strong objection to the execution of Billy Ray Irick, even though his brutal rape and murder of seven-year-old Paula Dyer is among the most heinous of crimes.
The state has the obligation to protect all people and to impose just punishment for crimes, but in the modern world the death penalty is not required for either of these ends. We echo the words of Pope Francis, who recently declared as definitive teaching that “in light of the Gospel,” the death penalty is unacceptable in all cases “because it attacks the dignity of the person, a dignity that is not lost even after having committed the most serious crimes."
We pray that God’s healing mercy will provide consolation and everlasting peace to Paula Dyer and her family. We pray for the same mercy, consolation, and peace for Billy Ray Irick and his family. We pray for a conversion of hearts to put an end to the practice of the death penalty in all cases and for an increase of the respect for life in all stages from conception until natural death.