death penalty

Tennessee Man Is First U.S. Inmate Killed By Electric Chair in Five Years

There have been 15 U.S. inmates executed in the electric chair since 2000. Photo: Mike Simons/Getty Images

“Let’s rock.”

Those were the last words Edmund Zagorski said before he was executed Thursday in an electric chair, the first U.S. inmate to be killed by the controversial method since 2013.

Convicted for the murder of two men in 1983, Zagorski requested death by electric chair to avoid the suffering inflicted by the three-drug cocktail Tennessee uses for lethal injection. His lawyer called the chair the “lesser of two evils.” The state allows inmates whose crimes occurred before 1999 to choose between the two methods of execution.

Zagorski made his choice just two months after Billy Ray Irick was executed by lethal injection in Tennessee. Medical examiners said Irick “experienced the feeling of choking, drowning in his own fluids, suffocating, being buried alive, and the burning sensation caused by the injection of the potassium chloride.”

Zagorski’s request to die via electrocution caused a delay in his execution. It had been 11 years since the chair was used in Tennessee and the state needed time to prepare.

During that delay, Zagorski’s legal team filed last-ditch appeals. And just minutes before he was killed, the U.S. Supreme Court denied his request for a stay. His attorneys had argued that Zagorski’s constitutional rights were violated when he was forced to choose between the chair and lethal injection.

The Supreme Court said Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented. She expressed concern about Zagorski’s choice to die in the chair and what that said about his alternatives.

“He did so not because he thought that it was a humane way to die, but because he thought that the three-drug cocktail that Tennessee had planned to use was even worse,” Sotomayor said in the statement. “Given what most people think of the electric chair, it’s hard to imagine a more striking testament — from a person with more at stake — to the legitimate fears raised by the lethal-injection drugs that Tennessee uses.”

Both Zagorski and Irick were part of a lawsuit this year that argued Tennessee’s three-drug cocktail is so vicious it amounts to a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Doctors testified that the first drug in the cocktail, midazolam, does not numb patients and prevent them from feeling pain, as it is supposed to. The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that drugs could continue to be used.

Tennessee Man Is First Killed By Electric Chair Since 2013