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VOL. 37 | NO. 43 | Friday, October 25, 2013

Tennessee sets January execution date

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NASHVILLE (AP) - Tennessee is set to have its first execution in nearly five years in January and the first using a new single-drug method that's also being used by other states.

State Department of Correction spokeswoman Dorinda Carter told The Associated Press on Thursday that 55-year-old Billy R. Irick is scheduled to be executed on Jan. 15.

The order for the execution was filed Tuesday, according to the state Supreme Court clerk's office.

Irick has been on death row since 1986 for the rape and murder of a 7-year-old girl. The last inmate executed by lethal injection in the state was Cecil Johnson, on Dec. 2, 2009. There are currently 79 inmates on death row, including one woman.

Last year, the state Supreme Court decided not to hear an appeal by Irick and another death row inmate claiming that changes to the state's lethal injection procedure at the time were unconstitutional.

Their attorneys argued that the state's th ree-drug protocol didn't contain sufficient safeguards to ensure that condemned inmates don't suffocate while fully conscious, which could violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The previous year a Nashville judge upheld the three-drug procedure after the state Correction Department added a new step for the warden to check that the inmate is unconscious after the first drug is injected.

However, the state announced last month that it's switching from the three-drug method to using only the sedative pentobarbital to put an inmate to death.

Carl E. Shiles, Irick's attorney, said Thursday that he's reviewing the new protocol.

Tennessee's supply of sodium thiopental, one of three drugs used in lethal injections, was turned over to the federal government in 2011 over questions about how it was imported. The short supply of sodium thiopental in the U.S. has led many states with the death penalty to seek out other drugs.

Arizona , Idaho and Ohio already have carried out executions using pentobarbital, a barbiturate that is most commonly used to euthanize animals and treat seizures. Missouri announced earlier this week that it will use the single drug for executions.

States have been scrambling to find execution drug alternatives in recent years because manufacturers don't want their products used in executions.

Denmark-based Lundbeck Inc., which was once the only maker of pentobarbital in the U.S., sold its rights to the drug to another manufacturer and said it never intended its product to be used in executions. The company said a distribution system meant to keep the drug out of the hands of prisons will remain in place.

Missouri is adding a compounding pharmacy to its execution team, which will be responsible for providing pentobarbital for executions.

Carter didn't say whether Tennessee will do something similar, but she said right now the state is ready if the execution g oes forward in January.

"We're confident we'll be able to secure the drug at the necessary time," she said.