Published 7:33 AM EDT Oct 11, 2018
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In a surprise move amid a flurry of legal filings, a federal appeals court granted a request to delay Edmund Zagorski’s execution, which was scheduled for Thursday.
It remains unclear how the order, from the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, will impact the execution’s timing — it is possible the U.S. Supreme Court could consider the stay Thursday and it could go forward as scheduled.
Zagorski, 63, asked federal courts to reconsider unexamined claims of ineffective trial counsel. The federal district court in Nashville rejected that argument Tuesday but a panel of 6th Circuit judges said the argument was provocative enough to merit full consideration.
To do that, they said, a stay was necessary.
Oct. 10: Tennessee won't use electric chair for Edmund Zagorski's execution
"We acknowledge, as the district court did, that petitioner faces an uphill battle on the merits," the order stated. "Yet, balancing this factor with the others, petitioner’s motion presents conditions rarely seen in the usual course of death penalty proceedings."
One judge on the appeals panel disagreed.
"A state is entitled to the assurance of finality," Circuit Judge Deborah Cook wrote. "Granting the stay shortchanges the State’s interests."
Zagorski was convicted of murdering John Dale Dotson and Jimmy Porter in April 1983. He shot them, slit their throats and stole their money and a truck, prosecutors say. The two men had expected to buy 100 pounds of marijuana from Zagorski.
A separate request for a stay is pending in the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of Tennessee's lethal injection protocol.
Oct. 9: Death row inmate to be executed Thursday chooses electric chair for execution
This is the latest in a series of legal wrangling over the method and timing of Zagorski's execution.
More developments are likely to come quickly as the state and defense attorneys continue to battle over the execution, which had been scheduled for 7 p.m. CT on Thursday.
Edmund Zagorski's fate hangs in the balance
- The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to delay Zagorski's execution while they considered his claims of ineffective counsel. The state did not immediately respond to the stay – it's possible the U.S. Supreme Court could intervene Thursday and allow the execution to proceed as scheduled.
- A parallel request to delay the execution based on a challenge to Tennessee's lethal injection drugs is pending at the U.S. Supreme Court.
- Separately, Zagorski continued to push for the use of the electric chair if he is executed. He asked the state to use it this week after a Tennessee Supreme Court decision that found the state's lethal injection drugs to be constitutional.
- The state rejected that request, saying Zagorski had missed the deadline to choose the electric chair. Death row inmates can choose the electric chair if their crime occurred before 1999. While state law doesn't give a deadline, prison protocol requires notification two weeks before an execution date.
- Zagorski's lawyers struck back Wednesday with an emergency motion in federal court. They argued the state must honor his preference for the electric chair.
- The state said the electric-chair law gave the Tennessee Department of Corrections the authority to establish a protocol for electrocution. The state argued the two-week deadline was a lawful part of that protocol. U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger was considering the emergency motion Wednesday.
- Meanwhile, prison officials continued preparing for the scheduled execution, even as the method and timing remained in question. Zagorski notified officials he would forgo a last meal.
Follow Adam Tamburin on Twitter: @tamburintweets