Tennessee man on death row chooses electric chair to avoid ‘terror and agony’ of lethal injection

Edmund Zagorski's execution is set amid a national debate about the use of untested drug cocktails.

A man in Tennessee is set to be executed by the electric chair Thursday night amid a national debate about lethal injection. (PHOTO CREDIT: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A man in Tennessee is set to be executed by the electric chair Thursday night amid a national debate about lethal injection. (PHOTO CREDIT: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Edmund Zagorski, 63, is set to be executed by electric chair Thursday night in Tennessee after requesting the method last month because the state uses a controversial drug cocktail for lethal injections that critics say causes excruciating, long-lasting pain.

Zagorski was sentenced to death for the 1984 murders of two men, and, according to Tennessee law, any person convicted of a capital offense before January 1, 1999, has the option to choose electrocution.

According to CNN, Zagorski’s attorneys have argued that lethal injection would force Zagorski to spend the last 10 to 18 minutes of his life in “utter terror and agony” while the electric chair would only cause him “excruciating pain for (likely) 15-30 seconds.”

Zagorski’s attorneys did reportedly say, however, that Zagorski was forced into a “terrible choice,” saying that although execution by electrocution is “relatively fast,” it is also “dreadful and grim.”


As of Wednesday night, Zagorski’s attorneys were still asking the Supreme Court to delay his execution. The court declined to hear Zagorski’s case last month.

Initially, Zagorski’s execution was scheduled for October 11, but Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) delayed the case two weeks ago so that the electric chair could be prepared properly, according to local reports.

“The point of the reprieve was just when the method changed,” Haslam told reporters after an event in Nashville last month. “You’re always open and listening but the purpose of the reprieve was not to reconsider the circumstance… I said let’s just make certain that we’re prepared in the exact right way.”

If Zagorski’s execution moves forward, he will become the first person in the United States put to death by the electric chair in five years, as CNN noted this week. The execution is scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m. local time. He reportedly chose pickled pig knuckles and pig tails for his last meal.

Four years ago, Tennessee became the first state to make use of the electric chair mandatory when lethal injection drugs are unavailable, though, assuming Zagorski’s execution goes forward, it would be the first time the state has used the electric chair since 2007. Before then, it had not been used in nearly 50 years.

Zagorski’s decision to request the electric chair comes amid a national debate about the ethics of lethal injection. In August, another man on death row, Billy Ray Irick, choked and turned purple as he died, according to people in attendance.


Irick was executed using a three-drug cocktail typical for lethal injections. The first drug, Midazolam, is supposed to act as a painkiller. The second is a paralytic, and the third induces a heart attack.

But Midazolam might not be doing its job. In a number of recent executions, experts said the individual being executed was in serious pain, including one instance in Arizona when the individual appeared to be in agony for two hours despite having been administered the drug.

Just four days after Irick was executed in Tennessee, Nebraska executed another man, Casey Dean Moore, using an untested drug cocktail that included fentanyl, the opioid that was responsible for nearly 30,000 deaths last year.

Beyond simply the ongoing debate about lethal injection, a report from the Death Penalty Information Center found that there was significant evidence of mental illness, brain damage, intellectual disability, severe trauma, or possible innocence in nearly 90 percent of capital punishment executions in the United States.

Additionally, the report found that five of the 23 people executed by the state in 2017 received “glaringly deficient legal representation” or were denied substantial judicial review.