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State of Tennessee executes death row inmate Billy Ray Irick

Billy Ray Irick (Tennessee Department of Corrections)

Death row inmate Billy Ray Irick, 59, has been executed, making it Tennessee’s first execution in nearly a decade. Irick was executed by means of lethal injection and pronounced dead at 7:48 p.m. Thursday at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville.

Irick was convicted in the 1986 rape and murder of a 7-year-old Knoxville girl he was babysitting, according to the state supreme court.

The Associated Press reported that Irick appeared to say no when asked if he had any words before the lethal injection, but then said, "I just want to say I'm really sorry and that, that's it."

Irick’s execution was scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday. The Tennessee Department of Corrections said Irick received his final meal at 3 p.m. He chose a super deluxe combo, which includes a super deluxe burger, onion rings, and a Pepsi.

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III released the following statement on Irick's execution:

“The death penalty is constitutional and it is the law of the State of Tennessee. It has taken decades and multiple court hearings, but justice was finally served for the murder and aggravated rape of 7-year-old Paula Dyer," Slatery said. "Justice was delayed too long for this little girl and her family. I hope tonight’s lawful execution in some way eases the heartache Paula’s family has lived with and brings a degree of closure to a chapter of their lives that has been indescribably difficult.”

The state Supreme Court initially set his execution date for December 7, 2010, but Irick was granted a stay based on his claim he was mentally incompetent. The court then rescheduled his execution for October 7, 2014 after affirming a court's determination that Irick was competent to be executed.

His execution was stayed again following a lawsuit by Irick and other death row inmates claiming the Tennessee Department of Correction's lethal injection protocol using pentobarbital was unconstitutional in 2015. The protocol was determined as constitutional by the state Supreme Court in March 2017. After the US Supreme Court refused to hear the lethal injection protocol case in January 2018, Irick's execution was rescheduled for August 2018.

The state supreme court denied his stay of execution Monday. Governor Bill Haslam declined to intervene.

"I took an oath to uphold the law. Capital punishment is the law in Tennessee and was ordered in this case by a jury of Tennesseans and upheld by more than a dozen state and federal courts," Governor Haslam said. "My role is not to be the 13th juror or the judge or to impose my personal views, but to carefully review the judicial process to make sure it was full and fair. Because of the extremely thorough judicial review of all of the evidence and arguments at every stage in this case, clemency is not appropriate.”

The US Supreme Court denied Irick's request Thursday.

The Catholic bishops of the Dioceses of Nashville and Knoxville issued a statement in opposition of Irick's execution.

"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," the statement reads. "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," the Dioceses said. "We pray for the same mercy, consolation, and peace for Billy Ray Irick and his family."

The state carried out Irick's execution using Midazolam. Some organizations argue that the drug could increase the possibility of complications as it has been associated with problematic executions across the country. The state said the chancery court found that the drug does not elicit effects, but that inmates could be able to feel pain from the administration of the second and third drugs during the execution.

An organization called Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty hosted a vigil for Irick at Fisk Memorial Chapel Thursday night.

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