Legal questions in flux over Tennessee execution

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Legal challenges continue to surround a Tennessee death row inmate whose execution has been temporarily halted.

Edmund Zagorski had been scheduled to be executed Thursday evening until the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay on Wednesday over questions of whether Zagorski had adequate representation.

In return, the state has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to vacate the decision in order to allow for Zagorski’s execution to take place at 7 p.m. Thursday.

“The Sixth Circuit’s order disregards the improbable odds of respondent’s likelihood of success on the merits and the state’s significant interest in enforcing its criminal judgments, and flatly contravenes the well-settled principle that a prisoner seeking a stay of execution must demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits,” wrote Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III.

However, even if the delay is overturned, other legal challenges are still pending before the Supreme Court seeking to halt both the timing and method of the execution — creating a potentially chaotic day in the build up to the pending execution.

Along with questioning Zagorski’s representation, Zagorski’s attorneys have submitted a separate request to the Supreme Court seeking to delay Thursday’s execution over claims the state’s lethal injection method is constitutional.

That means even if the justices overturn the federal appeals court decision regarding proper representation, the court still has the opportunity to halt the execution over lethal injection concerns.

Finally, Zagorski is also challenging the state’s refusal to grant his request to use the electric chair over the three-drug cocktail the state had planned on using Thursday. Zagorski made the request hours after the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled the state’s lethal injection method constitutional.

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

However, the state argues Zagorski waited too long to make his request for the electric chair.

Zagorski was sentenced in 1984 in the slayings of two men during a drug deal. Prosecutors said Zagorski shot John Dotson and Jimmy Porter, then slit their throats after robbing them in Robertson County in April 1983. The victims had planned to buy marijuana from Zagorski.