TN Executes Inmate After Sotomayor Seeks Delay

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Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, dissenting from an execution order on Thursday, said if the law allowed Tennessee inmate Billy Ray Irick to die despite evidence of “horrific” pain during the process, the U.S. has “stopped being a civilized nation and accepted barbarism,” the National Law Journal reports. Irick was put to death Thursday evening. Sotomayor criticized an unsigned order that denied a stay of execution to Irick, who challenged the three-drug cocktail the state used. He argued the drugs would result in excruciating torture before killing him. Experts testified that the drug cocktail would cause “sensations of drowning, suffocating, and being burned alive from the inside out,” Sotomayor said. “In theory, the first drug in the three-drug protocol, midazolam, is supposed to render a person unable to feel pain during an execution. But the medical experts who testified here explained that midazolam would not work, and the trial court credited that testimony.”

Because of the “rushed context” of Irick’s emergency application for a stay, the trial record was not before the justices. Sotomayor said she would grant Irick’s stay request to allow the state courts more time to consider his claims. Irick was sentenced to death for raping and killing 7-year-old Paula Dyer. A lower-court judge ruled against Irick and 32 other inmates challenging the drug protocol after finding Irick had not proved that a less painful method of executing him was available to the state and that, even assuming an alternative was available, the U.S. Supreme Court would not find the three-drug cocktail sufficiently cruel to violate the Eighth Amendment. The “less painful alternative” was a requirement imposed by the high court in a 5-4 decision by Justice Samuel Alito Jr. Sotomayor described the requirement as “perverse” in making inmates offer alternative methods for killing themselves.

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