Prosecutors know that the death penalty doesn't come fast--it took more than 30 years for Billy Ray Irick to enter the execution chamber.

"When you do seek the death penalty, it causes the actual punishment to go on for so long," Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen said.

Some of that delay is by design and seeking the death penalty means special protocol.

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"He is then entitled to a long appellate process like you've seen in this case, it's taken 33 years to get through that appellate process," she said.

Courts had to rule whether the execution drugs would cause too much pain, which is one of the reasons Irick's case took so long.

"It's somewhat ironic," Allen said. "That we talk about and take so much time and effort to talk about the most humane way to kill a murderer."

But Knoxville defense attorney Stephen Johnson said that protection is important.

"If we don't protect the rights, liberties and respect for humanity of the people who it is easiest to diminish that humanity in, people who are convicted of even horrific crimes, than it becomes easier to do that for all of us."

Johnson said thorough appeals are necessary, although court intervention is rare.

"Yes there is a a lot of review that occurs in death penalty cases, but a lot of it is pro forma."

One of the major issues in recent years is whether the drug cocktail used to kill the condemned prisoners violated the constitution.

"Obviously killing someone is painful, we can all recognize that. But it can't be unnecessarily painful. It can't be cruel and unusual. It can't be torture," Johnson said.

Now that the court has ruled the drugs are okay in Irick's case, more prisoners could be headed to the execution chamber.

"I hope this is the first of many we get done just to provide closure for the victims and to do in the criminal justice system what we have set out to do," Allen said.