'Beats being on death row;' David Earl Miller executed

Published: Dec. 6, 2018 at 1:16 PM EST
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BREAKING: David Earl Miller is the third man executed in the state of Tennessee in 2018, and the second in as many months by electric chair.

He was pronounced dead at 8:25 p.m. EST.

The Tennessee Department of Corrections said no victim witnesses were in attendance.

Miller was convicted of killing 23-year-old Lee Standifer in 1981 in Knoxville. Standifer was a mentally handicapped woman who had been on a date with Miller the night she was repeatedly beaten, stabbed and dragged into some woods.

Miller spent 36 years on Tennessee’s death row, the longest of any inmate.

The Associated Press reported Miller's last words were, "Beats being on death row."

Media witnesses confirmed the time of death at 8:25 p.m., and a shroud was placed over Miller's face during the execution.

Witnesses said during the news conference after the execution Miller gave an initial statement at 8:12 p.m. that was inaudible before repeating his last words. The electric chair was turned on at 8:16 p.m. before being turned off at 8:18 p.m.

Witnesses also confirmed Miller had little to no expression on his face.

"He just had a blank stare," one witness said before his face was concealed.

"Everything seemed to be carried out by the book," said another witness.

Knoxville assistant public defender Steve Kissinger defended Miller in the news conference after the execution, saying Miller "cared deeply for Lee Standifer." Kissinger said his client's actions were the result of abuse suffered as a child.

"Lee Standifer would still be alive today if it wasn't for a sadistic step-father and a mother who violated every trust a son should have," Kissinger said. "We should all be asking, 'What is it we did here today?'"

The U.S. Supreme Court earlier in the day refused to halt plans by the state of Tennessee to put Miller to death in the electric chair.

Attorneys for Miller had previously filed two applications seeking to halt the execution. The court, in an emailed statement, said the request for a stay was denied, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissenting.

In claims to the court, Miller’s attorneys had argued that the electric chair is unconstitutional but the state’s lethal injection method is worse. Miller previously filed a separate request with the nation’s high court in November. That one argued that the court needed to clarify what an inmate must do to prove a more humane method of execution is available.

Miller chose the electric chair as allowed by authorities. The last inmate to choose the chair, Edmund Zagorksi, was executed November 1.

Both had unsuccessfully argued in court that Tennessee’s lethal injection method causes a prolonged and torturous death.

In Tennessee, inmates whose crimes were committed before 1999 can chose electrocution over lethal injection. Zagorski’s execution was delayed about three weeks after he requested the electric chair amid a last-minute flurry of legal maneuvers. The state initially refused his request until a federal court judge ordered the state to comply.

Haslam ordered a brief reprieve to “give all involved the time necessary to carry out the sentence in an orderly and careful manner.”

The builder of Tennessee’s electric chair warned that it could malfunction, but Zagorski’s execution appeared to be carried out without incident. It was only the second time Tennessee had put an inmate to death in the electric chair since 1960.

The courts said Miller couldn't challenge the constitutionality of the electric chair because he chose it, even though his attorneys have argued the choice was coerced by the threat of something even worse.

Zagorski and Miller argued in court that Tennessee’s current midazolam-based method causes a prolonged and torturous death. They pointed to the August execution of Billy Ray Irick, which took around 20 minutes and during which he coughed and huffed before turning a dark purple.

Their case was thrown out, largely because a judge said they failed to prove a more humane alternative was available. Gov. Bill Haslam declined Thursday to intervene in Miller’s planned execution.

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

In recent decades, states have moved away from the electric chair, and no state now uses electrocution as its main execution method, said Robert Dunham. Dunham is the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which doesn’t take a stand on the death penalty but is critical of its application.

Georgia and Nebraska courts both have ruled the electric chair unconstitutional, and about two decades ago it looked as though the U.S. Supreme Court would weigh in on the issue. It agreed to hear a case out of Florida after a series of botched executions there. But Florida adopted lethal injection, and the case was dropped.

Dunham said he wasn’t aware of any state other than Tennessee where inmates were choosing electrocution over lethal injection.

For his last meal, Miller chose fried chicken, mashed potatoes, biscuits, and coffee.

This meal was provided to Miller Thursday afternoon.