Tennessee death row inmate is running out of legal options

Tennessee death row inmate is running out of legal options Photo: AP

October 17, 2018 03:51 PM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee inmate who won a last-minute reprieve sparing him from execution last week may be running out of options, and a new date with the death chamber could be set as early as the end of the month, court records show.

Edmund Zagorksi, who was sentenced to die in 1984 for killing two men he robbed during a drug deal, has no new execution date scheduled after the state's plans for a lethal injection last Thursday were cancelled amid a flurry of legal maneuvers. They included a court order that he die in the electric chair, at his request.

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Those moves may have set back possible execution a few weeks at best. Court filings indicate Zagorski, who has spent 34 years on Tennessee's death row, could get an execution date as early as Oct. 28.

Just a day before his previously scheduled execution, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay that could have delayed it for many months. But the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the stay the next day and also declined to hear a separate appeal challenging Tennessee's three-drug lethal injection cocktail.

Meanwhile, a third federal court ordered Tennessee to honor Zagorski's request to die in the electric chair, rather than by lethal injection. Zagorski's attorney said the inmate believes electrocution would be quicker and less painful.

That last decision, by a U.S. District Court judge in Nashville, apparently prompted Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to put a temporary halt to the execution.

Although inmates whose offenses occurred before 1999 have the option to choose electrocution, under Tennessee law, Zagorski gave the state only three days' notice of his choice. But when the Department of Correction said it would go forward with lethal injection, Zagorski's attorneys asked the court to intervene.

Correction officials never said whether they would be able to carry out an electrocution on such short notice, but Haslam said in a statement his reprieve would "give all involved the time necessary to carry out the sentence in an orderly and careful manner."

Once the 10-day reprieve expires, the Tennessee Supreme Court can set a new execution date. It must be at least seven days later.

Meanwhile, with its stay lifted, the 6th Circuit is fast-tracking Zagorski's case before that venue — a claim of poor legal representation at trial. But it is unclear whether that case could be heard and decided before another execution date.

Jurors sentenced Zagorski to death in 1984 after finding him guilty of shooting John Dotson and Jimmy Porter and slitting their throats. The victims had planned to buy marijuana from Zagorski. Prosecutors said Zagorski never had any marijuana but set the men up to rob them and then killed them to cover it up.

Zagorski's attorney Kelley Henry has said the legal team is reviewing its options.

Credits

By TRAVIS LOLLER

(Copyright 2018 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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