Four death row inmates request firing squad to be added as Tennessee execution method

(Lisa Kennedy / MGN)

Four inmates filed a challenge to Tennessee's execution protocol and procedures. The filing comes after the executions of Billy Ray Irick on August 9 from a three-drug lethal injection method and Edmund Zagorski on November 1 by electric chair.

Death row inmates David Miller, Nicholas Sutton, Stephen West, and Terry King seek alternative execution methods. The inmates are pushing to add execution by firing squad and euthanasia oral cocktail to Tennessee's list of execution methods.

The filing claims that Tennessee's midazolam-based three-drug lethal injection protocol is unconstitutional. The Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the protocol as constitutional in early October.

The legal documents claim Tennessee's electrocution protocol violates the eighth and fourteenth amendments of the Constitution as "cruel and unusual punishment."

The filing claims that execution by firing squad and euthanasia oral cocktail would "significantly reduce the substantial risk of severe pain and suffering" under the state's electrocution protocol.

A study cited in the legal challenge states that from 1900 to 2010, 7.12% of the 1,054 lethal injection executions and 1.92% of electrocution executions were "botched," the 34 firing squad executions were carried out without error. Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Utah list firing squad as options for executions. 28 countries conduct firing-squad executions.

The inmates say the state could access firearms and ammunition to be potentially used in an execution by firing squad, and the state could find people who regularly train with firearms at the Big Bucking Shooting Range at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution. Firing squad "reduces any error rate" in executions and "reduces substantial risk of unnecessary and severe pain" compared to lethal injection. A back-up plan would be the "coup de grace."

The euthanasia oral cocktail suggested in the legal challenge would consist of oral administration of midazolam, digoxin, morphone sulfate and propranolol in a liquid like fruit juice or mixing secobarbital with fruit juice.

The inmates also brought up the one-drug lethal injection method using pentobarbital, which was eliminated as a Tennessee execution method in January. Court documents claim the drug is available with "ordinary good-faith effort." Texas, Georgia, and South Dakota have executed death row inmates using that method.

Miller is set to die on December 6, 2018.

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