Tonight, in Tennessee, barring any last minute intervention, Edmund Zagorski will be strapped into an electric chair. Four sponges soaked in brine will be attached to his ankles to increase conductivity, another brine-soaked sponge will be placed on his forehead, a shroud will be placed over his face, and he will be shocked to death. Two shocks, both 1750 volts.
Mr. Zagorski requested that he be executed by electrocution on October 8th, just hours after the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the use of a 3-drug lethal injection cocktail, which multiple experts have warned would lead to a very painful death. Mr. Zagorski said that he preferred the thought of a 35 second death, with two large shocks, to a potentially protracted, agonizing death via lethal injection. He’s not alone in his trepidation — this summer, in an effort to avoid a botched execution, eight death row prisoners in Alabama requested to be executed in the gas chamber, rather than face lethal injection.
But in choosing the electric chair, will a slow and painful death be avoided? Other death penalty states have moved away from the use of the electric chair; the Supreme Courts in Georgia and Nebraska ruled that its use is unconstitutional. In the 5-4 Georgia Supreme Court ruling, the electric chair was denounced for “its specter of excruciating pain and its certainty of cooked brains and blistered bodies.” The ruling went on to say that death via electric chair inflicts “purposeless physical violence and needless mutilation that makes no measurable contribution to accepted goals of punishment.” There are multiple instances of botched executions via electric chair. Jesse Tafero, who was executed in Florida in 1990, had smoke and flames shooting from his head. In 1999, blood spilled from under an prisoner’s mask as he was being shocked to death in the electric chair.
Compounding an already horrific situation, the electric chair which will be used to kill Zagorski was built by a self-taught expert — with no engineering degree — and hasn’t been used for over a decade. The expert, Fred Leuchter, worries that his device will malfunction. “What I’m worried about now is Tennessee’s got an electric chair that’s going to hurt someone or cause problems. And it’s got my name on it,” Leuchter told AP. “I don’t think it’s going to be humane.”
The last execution using the electric chair was in Virginia, in 2013. There is no humane means of executing another human. But it is especially tragic that in 2018, a person sentenced to die must be forced to choose a method of execution that has been ruled unconstitutional and cruel, in an attempt to avoid another method that is likely unconstitutional and cruel.
The Tennessean has published a timeline of what tomorrow’s execution will look like, below.
At 5 PM, Zagorski will be dressed in cotton pants, a shirt and cotton socks or cloth house shoes.
Immediate family of the victims, two men Zagorski is convicted of killing, will arrive at the prison by 6:15 p.m. Around the same time, prison staff will shave Zagorski’s head and legs.
At 7 p.m., prison staff will take Zagorski out of his cell next to the execution chamber. He will be led to the electric chair.
Staff will strap Zagorski into the chair with an “electric chair harness and wrist straps.” Four sponges soaked in salt water will be strapped around his ankles to increase conductivity.
Zagorski’s lawyer, federal public defender Kelley Henry, and an attorney for the state will leave the execution chamber.
At 7:10 p.m., blinds to the witness rooms will open and the warden will ask Zagorski for last words.
After that, prison staff will place another sponge soaked in salt water on Zagorski’s head. Staff will then place the electric chair “head piece” on Zagorski’s head. They will also place a shroud around his face.
More salt brine will be poured over the ankle sponges.
The warden will give the signal to proceed, and the executioner will activate the electric chair.
The electric chair will release 1,750 volts of electricity for 20 seconds, will stop for 15 seconds and then will release 1,750 volts for another 15 seconds.
After the first wave of electricity, officials will wait five minutes and then close the blinds into the witness room.
A doctor will check Zagorski for signs of life. If there are none, the doctor will pronounce him dead.
If Zagorski is still alive, the blinds will be raised, another round of electricity will be administered and the doctor will be called in again.
The warden will announce when Zagorski’s death sentence is complete, and will ask witnesses to leave.