NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee carried out the execution Thursday of a man condemned for the 1985 rape and murder of a 7-year-old girl, marking the first time the state has applied the death penalty in nearly a decade.
Inmate Billy Ray Irick, 59, received a three-drug injection at a maximum-security prison in Nashville and was pronounced dead at 7:48 p.m., authorities said. He was convicted in 1986 in the death of Paula Dyer, a Knoxville girl he was babysitting.
The blinds between a witness room and the execution chamber were opened at 7:26 p.m. Thursday and Irick could be seen through glass windows. Asked if he had any words before the lethal chemicals began flowing, Irick at first appeared to sigh and say “no.” But then he said, “I just want to say I’m really sorry and that, that’s it.”
Then the execution proceeded. A minute later, his eyes closed. Snoring and heavy breathing were heard. At 7:34 p.m., there was coughing, huffing and deep breaths. An attendant began yelling “Billy” and checked the inmate and grabbed his shoulder, but there didn’t seem to be any reaction. Two minutes later, Irick was not making any noise and he was soon after pronounced dead.
Hours earlier Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for the execution, denying Irick’s request for a stay. But Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a blistering dissent, recounting details from a recent state court trial of a case brought by inmates contesting Tennessee’s execution drugs.
It was the first execution in Tennessee since December 2009, when inmate Cecil Johnson received a lethal injection for the 1980 killings of three people during a Nashville convenience store robbery. Since then, the state has endured legal challenges and difficulties finding execution chemicals such, including its previous drug pentobarbital.