Updated 10:30 p.m.
The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a challenge of Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol and lifted a stay of execution ordered by a lower court because of inadequate counsel. The move clears the way for the execution of Edmund Zagorski, who was scheduled to die Thursday night.
It's still unclear whether Zagorski will die by lethal injection or his preference, electrocution, but he could be put to death as early as October 21, following a 10-day reprieve.
Update 5:45 p.m.
Edmund Zagorski is moving off death watch for at least 10 days, after Gov. Bill Haslam stopped Thursday's execution by granting a temporary reprieve so last-minute legal challenges can be settled
At least two legal issues hang over Zagorski's pending execution. For one, a federal judge told the state earlier in the day it could not use lethal injection on Zagorski because he requested the electric chair this week.
Prison officials had indicated they might not be prepared for an electrocution. Haslam says in a statement the additional time will allow the sentence to be carried out "in an orderly and careful manner."
The execution was already in question, though, because a federal appeals court issued a stay Wednesday night. This related to a separate claim, that Zagorski had ineffective counsel at trial in 1984 when he was sentenced to death for a double murder.
The Sixth Circuit saw enough evidence to put the execution on hold. But until Haslam stepped in, the warden at Riverbend was still going through the motions of an execution, in case the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the stay.
Updated 4:30 p.m.
Governor Bill Haslam stepped in just hours before Edmund Zagorski was scheduled to die Thursday, granting a 10-day delay so at least two separate legal questions could be settled "in an orderly and careful manner."
“I am granting to Edmund Zagorski a reprieve of 10 days from execution of the sentence of death imposed upon by him by a jury in 1984 which was scheduled to be carried out later today. I take seriously the responsibility imposed upon the Tennessee Department of Correction and me by law, and given the federal court’s decision to honor Zagorski’s last-minute decision to choose electrocution as the method of execution, this brief reprieve will give all involved the time necessary to carry out the sentence in an orderly and careful manner.”
Haslam had denied Zagorski's petition for clemency earlier this month, saying that good behavior in prison didn't outweigh a double murder. But since then, the Sixth Circuit issued a stay based on appeals related to ineffective counsel at trial. And a federal district judge told prison officials that they could not use the state's three-drug lethal injection method on Zagorski, who this week requested to be put to death by electrocution.
The last-minute legal back-and-forth over condemned prisoner Edmund Zagorski continues ahead of his scheduled execution Thursday evening. At noon, U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger barred state officials from using Tennessee's three-drug lethal injection protocol.
Zagorski had asked on Monday to die by electrocution, but prison officials said it was too late.
Trauger writes that the Tennessee Department of Correction regulations say once a prisoner chooses the method of execution, it can't be changed with less than two weeks to the scheduled date. But Zagorski had never made a decision one way or the other.
"The form itself does not provide any deadline for the inmate’s initial election," Trauger's order says.
For now, the execution is off because of a separate matter related to whether Zagorski had ineffective counsel when he was convicted of a double murder in 1984. A federal appeals court issued a stay Wednesday night, but the state has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court (download here).
Riverbend Maximum Security Prison in Nashville still hasn't called off the execution and all the steps that lead up to the lethal act. But if the high court overturns the Sixth Circuit's stay, correction officials would still have to deal with Trauger's order on lethal injection and either appeal to a higher court or put Zagorski to death by electrocution, as he requested.
Zagorski is scheduled to die at 7 p.m. but prison officials have until midnight to carry out the death sentence.