Second Tennessee Inmate Dies by Electric Chair

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (CN) — Tennessee executed David Earl Miller Thursday night, using its electric chair for the second time in the past five weeks.

Miller, who was convicted in 1982 of stabbing and beating Lee Standifer to death with a fire poker, chose to die by electric chair rather than Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to stay the execution, but Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a two-page dissent pointing out that Miller was the second inmate on Tennessee’s death row to ask for the chair rather than lethal injection. The first was Edmund Zagorski, who was executed on Nov. 2, breaking a period of 11 years where Tennessee did not use its electric chair.

“Both so chose even though electrocution can be a dreadful way to die,” Sotomayor wrote. “They did so against the backdrop of credible scientific evidence that lethal injection as currently practiced in Tennessee may well be even worse.”

The Tennessee Supreme Court this year rejected a petition by a group of inmates on death row challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection, because they did not present a viable execution method. The inmates argued that the first drug in Tennessee’s three-drug protocol did not effectively prevent the feeling of pain during the execution.

According to Sotomayor, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Miller’s petitions for a stay of execution and an appeal, based on the “fiction” that Miller voluntarily chose the electric chair and that he also failed to show there was a better, more viable execution method.

Like some of her other dissents in death penalty cases, Sotomayor said the Supreme Court’s thinking stemmed from a landmark case decided in 2015, which she believes was erroneously decided, by 5-4.

“These cases are the unfortunate byproducts of this Court’s decision in Glossip v. Gross … Such madness should not continue,” Sotomayor wrote. “Respectfully, I dissent.”

Before the execution, anti-death penalty advocates such as Helen Prejean argued that Miller should have been granted clemency because the jury that sentenced him to death him never considered that his childhood was filled with physical and sexual abuse.

Earlier Thursday, Gov. Bill Haslam declined to halt the execution, which was carried out at 7:25 p.m. at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution.

“After careful consideration of David Earl Miller’s clemency request,” Haslam said in a statement, “I am declining to intervene in this case.”

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