Appeals court grants late stay for Tennessee killer headed for execution

By Sommer Brokaw

Oct. 11 (UPI) -- A convicted killer received an 11th-hour reprieve from a federal court late Wednesday, about 24 hours before he was set to die in Tennessee's execution chamber.

Edmund Zagorski was scheduled for execution by lethal injection Thursday night at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville for killing two men in a 1983 drug deal. His attorneys sought a stay claiming his original defense was inadequate. Late Wednesday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the stay, postponing Zagorski's execution as the appeal winds through the courts.


Zagorski was moved near the execution chamber Tuesday as the state prepared to carry out its second death sentence this year. Killer Billy Ray Irick was put to death in August.

The court's move gives time for appellate judges to consider Zagorski's claims that attorneys at his 1984 trial mounted an ineffective defense.

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"We acknowledge, as the district court did, that petitioner faces an uphill battle on the merits," the court's order said Wednesday. "Yet, balancing this factor with the others, petitioner's motion presents conditions rarely seen in the usual course of death penalty proceedings."


Zagorski's case gained national attention when he chose to die in the electric chair rather than lethal injection. The state denied his request, though, saying he missed a September deadline to inform them of his wish to be electrocuted.

Prosecutors said Zagorski's claims aren't sufficient to warrant delay.

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"Because Zagorski has failed to carry his burden of demonstrating that the circumstances demand such extraordinary relief, his request should be denied," prosecutors said.

One of the judges also disagreed with the approval.

"A state is entitled to the assurance of finality," Judge Deborah Cook wrote in dissent. "Granting the stay shortchanges the state's interests."

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Zagorski's attorneys have also requested a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of Tennessee's lethal injection protocol, after the state Supreme Court upheld the practice in a prior legal challenge.

Defense attorney Kelley Henry said Zagorski chose to die in the electric chair because he considered it the "lesser of two evils" -- primarily because lethal injection causes physical and psychological distress.

"[The] 10 to 18 minutes of drowning, suffocation and chemical burning is unspeakable," Henry said.

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