While the murder and rape of 7-year-old Paula Dyer was particularly heinous and sparked outrage throughout the state, opponents of the execution of Billy Ray Irick, the man convicted of the crime, claimed he should not have been executed due to psychiatric problems.
They cited a history of mental illness, including being institutionalized as a child, hallucinations and dissociative episodes leading up to the crime.
On Thursday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan denied a request to delay Irick’s execution. Justice Sonia Sotomayor disagreed with the decision and issued a statement saying the court was turning, “a blind eye to a proven likelihood that the state of Tennessee is on the verge of inflicting several minutes of torturous pain on an inmate in its custody, while shrouding his suffering behind a veneer of paralysis.
"I cannot in good conscience join in this 'rush to execute' without first seeking every assurance that our precedent permits such results ... if the law permits this execution to go forward in spite of the horrific final minutes that Irick may well experience, then we stopped being a civilized nation and accepted barbarism," Sotomayor wrote in her dissent ahead of Irick’s execution by lethal injection.
On the other side of the debate, victims’ rights advocates say Irick’s death sentence was appropriate due to the nature of the crime. Irick was ultimately the 133rd person put to death by the state since 1916. This was the first execution in Tennessee since 2009 and the seventh execution in the state since 1976.
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