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Tenn. death row inmates ask to die by firing squad

If the court disagrees, the suit also asks for permission to use other alternatives such as orally administering lethal drugs over using a needle

By Kimberlee Kruesi
Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Four Tennessee death row inmates are asking a federal court to allow them to have a firing squad used as an execution method.

The lawsuit was filed Friday, a day after Edmund Zagorski was executed at a Tennessee maximum security prison using the electric chair. Zagorski’s attorneys argued the method was more humane than selecting lethal injection because it would take a shorter amount of time for the inmate to die. It was the first electrocution the state had conducted since 2007.

The four inmates named in the lawsuit include David Earl Miller, who is scheduled to be executed on Dec. 6 and is the longest-standing death row inmate in Tennessee.

Miller was sentenced to death in 1981 for the rape and murder of 23-year-old Lee Standifer, who was mentally handicapped, in Knoxville.

Miller will be asked Tuesday to choose his execution method. The lawsuit seeks to delay that decision until a federal judge can review their case, as well as delay his execution.

“There exists one or more feasible and readily-available alternative methods of execution which substantially reduce the constitutionally-unacceptable risk of inflicting unnecessary and serious pain created by the use of electrocution to carry out Plaintiffs’ executions,” wrote Stephen Kissinger, a federal public defender representing the inmates.

The suit adds that the state already has the trained personnel, firearms and space to allow for a firing squad. However, if the court disagrees, the suit also asks for permission to use other alternatives such as orally administering lethal drugs over using a needle, or using different forms of drugs.

“Because lethal injection is the default method of execution, plaintiffs must elect electrocution in order to avoid a harsher punishment than the punishment provided by law at the time of the crimes,” Kissinger wrote.

The lawsuit goes on to argue that if an inmate chooses electrocution, inmates “may forfeit the right to challenge the constitutionality of electrocution under the Eighth Amendment.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Correction said it would be “improper” to provide a comment with the lawsuit still pending.

Other inmates listed in the lawsuit include Nicholas Todd Sutton, Stephen Michael West and Terry Lynn King.

Miller, Sutton and West had filed a similar lawsuit earlier this year pushing for alternatives to Tennessee’s lethal injection method but eventually voluntarily dismissed their case due to other challenges to the state’s execution procedures.

The last time a firing squad was used in the U.S. was in 2010, when Ronnie Lee Gardner was killed by a firing squad in Utah for the 1984 murder of attorney Michael Burdell during a failed courthouse escape.

Today, just three states — Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah — continue to allow the use of firing squads.

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