State Supreme Court upholds three-drug lethal injection protocol as constitutional

Edmund Zagorski (Tennessee Department of Corrections)

The Tennessee Supreme Court has held that the state's current lethal injection protocol is constitutional. The ruling comes after a group of death row inmates challenged the state's three-drug lethal injection protocol, claiming it violates prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment under the US and State constitutions.

The Court announced the ruling just days before Tennessee's next scheduled execution. The state plans to execute Edmund Zagorski on October 11.

Zagorski, of Robertson County, was convicted of shooting and slitting the throats of John Dotson and Jimmy Porter during a marijuana deal in 1983. Governor Bill Haslam denied clemency for Zagorski on October 5.

The three-drug lethal injection protocol was adopted in January 2018 by the Tennessee Department of Correction as an alternative execution method to the single-drug protocol using pentobarbital. 33 death row inmates filed a constitutional challenge to the new protocol in February as TDOC eliminated the pentobarbital alternative. The three-drug protocol now stands as the only available lethal injection execution method in Tennessee.

In the state's first execution in nearly a decade, Billy Ray Irick was executed using the three-drug lethal injection protocol on August 9. Irick was convicted in the 1986 rape and murder of a young Knoxville girl he was babysitting. A doctor in a lawsuit challenging the three-drug lethal injection method said based on witness accounts, Irick experienced "torturous effects" during the execution.

In an opinion filed Monday, a majority of the Court held that current federal and Tennessee law required the inmates to plead and prove the availability of an alternative method of execution that entails a lesser risk of pain. The Court dismissed the inmates' actions after they say the death row inmates failed to prove the protocol violated either the United States Constitution or the Tennessee Constitution.

Justice Sharon G. Lee said the inmates were denied due process because the proceedings were not fundamentally fair and claimed that the Court's rush to execute was also a factor.

To read the full Tennessee Supreme Court’s majority opinion and the dissent filed in Abdur’Rahman, et al. v. Tony Parker, et al., go to the opinions section of

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