A Tennessee death row inmate flashed a smile and waved goodbye before saying “let’s rock” after being asked by the warden if he had any last words — minutes before he was executed in the electric chair on Thursday, the National Post reported.
Edmund Zagorski, 63, became Tennessee’s first man to be executed by the electric chair since 2007. He was sentenced to death for shooting two men and slitting their throats during a drug deal that took place in April of 1983. Tennessee jurists did not have the option of considering life without parole at the time of his conviction.
The National Post reported that Zagorski’s execution was witnessed by five members of the media, as well as his attorney, the prison’s chaplain, and a representative from the attorney general’s office.
According to one reporter who witnessed the scene, Zagorski could be seen smiling while being strapped down. Another reported noted that Kelly Henry, the inmate’s attorney, was nodding, smiling, and tapping her heart before the execution was performed. She was seen wiping away tears after it was over.
“I told him when I put my hand over my heart, that was me holding him in my heart,” Henry said after the execution took place. Despite the situation, Henry made an effort to smile at him before his face was shrouded by a black cloth. Zagorski allegedly wanted her smile to be the last thing that he saw.
Zagorski opted for the electric chair over a lethal injection because he thought it would “be a quicker and less painful way to die.” The state was close to administering an injection three weeks ago, but was halted after Zagorski exercised his right to request the second form of execution.
In Tennessee, condemned inmates whose crimes occurred before 1999 have the option of choosing the electric chair. Zagorski was only the second person to die in such a manner in the state since 1960, and nationwide is one of 15 people that have been put to death in the electric chair since 2000. The last death by electric chair in the United States took place in Virginia, in 2013.
“He did so not because he thought 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,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote on Thursday as the dissenting voice in the Supreme Court’s statement. The court denied Zagorski’s request for a stay of execution just minutes before his penalty was carried out. His attorneys had argued that it was unconstitutional to force him to choose between the two options, the National Post reported.
“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” Sotomayor wrote as the voice of dissent.
The U.S. Supreme Court never made a decision as to whether or not the electric chair is a form of cruel and unusual punishment, nor whether its use violates the 8th Amendment — which banned such practices. The Supreme Court was close to doing so about 20 years ago — after a series of electrocutions had gone wrong in Florida — but the case was dropped after the state made lethal injection its primary method of execution.
According to the National Post, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam declined to intervene in the case “despite receiving pleas” from correctional officers, Zagorski’s priest, and even former jurors who convicted the inmate.
The National Post reported that vigils were held in Knoxville and Memphis, as well as outside the prison where Zagorski’s execution took place. There, a banner was raised that said “A Free Tennessee is Execution-Free.”