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Lawyer: Tennessee Inmate's Choice Of Electric Chair Won't Buy Him Time

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An attorney for Tennessee death row inmate Edmund Zagorski says his choice of death by electrocution over lethal injection is not a ploy to buy time.

Kelley Henry announced Zagorski's decision Monday night. He's scheduled to be executed Thursday.

Henry said some people will see the choice as a stall tactic, but Zagorski cannot legally challenge the use of the electric chair after choosing to die by that method.

Henry said Zagorski's decision is based on evidence that Tennessee's lethal injection method would cause him 10 to 18 minutes of mental and physical anguish. He believes the electric chair will be quicker.

"It was certainly a difficult decision," Henry said. "It's impossible to know which is better of the two unconstitutional choices."

Zagorski is one of 32 death row inmates in Tennessee suing over the state's three-drug method of lethal injection. They claim the first drug, midazolam leaves prisoners unable to cry out as their lungs fill with fluid and they experience drowning, suffocation and chemical burning.

The Tennessee Supreme Court, in a split decision, ruled against the inmates on Monday. Henry said she intends to ask for a stay of Zagorski's execution in order to allow the U.S. Supreme Court time to review the merits of the lethal injection case.

Henry will argue that the fact Zagorski has now chosen to die by the electric chair should not prevent the court from granting a stay because he was forced to make that choice as the lesser of two evils, she said.

In Tennessee, death row inmates whose offenses came before January 1999 can choose either lethal injection or the electric chair. The last time Tennessee put someone to death by electrocution was in 2007.

An Associated Press reporter who witnessed the execution of Daryl Holton wrote that a black shroud was placed over his head before a 20-second shock was administered. The shock caused Holton to straighten his back and move his hips up out of the chair before he slumped back. There was a 15-second pause before he was given a second shock that lasted 15 seconds.

A report from the state medical examiner later found that Holton had suffered minor burns to his head and legs but there were no signs of the severe burning and other major injuries that had been seen in some past electrocutions.

A spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Correction did not immediately respond to messages asking whether the state will be ready to use the electric chair Thursday, but she did send out an email stating Zagorski has been moved to death watch, a normal procedure during the three-day period before an execution in Tennessee.

Gov. Bill Haslam already has said he won't intervene in Zagorski's case.

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