Tennessee’s longest-serving death row inmate has been executed after choosing the electric chair over lethal injection.
David Earl Miller was pronounced dead at 7.25pm on Thursday at a Nashville maximum-security prison. When asked if he had any last words, he replied: “Beats being on death row.”
The 61-year-old was the second person put to death in the state’s electric chair in just over a month, after convicted killer Edmund Zagorski, despite proponents of the lethal injection insisting it is painless and humane.
The inmates had argued 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.
In recent decades, states have moved away from the electric chair, and no state now uses electrocution as its main execution method.
Georgia and Nebraska courts have both ruled the electric chair unconstitutional, and about two decades ago it looked as though the US 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 the state subsequently adopted lethal injection, and the case was dropped.
Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Centre, which does not take a stand on the death penalty but is critical of its application, said he was not aware of any state other than Tennessee where inmates were choosing electrocution over lethal injection.
In the state, inmates whose crimes were committed before 1999 can chose between the two methods.
Zagorski’s execution was delayed about three weeks after he requested the electric chair amid a last-minute flurry of legal manoeuvres. He was executed on 1 November.
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 could not challenge the constitutionality of the electric chair because he chose it, even though his attorneys argued the choice was coerced by the threat of something even worse.
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.